Monday, 26 September 2016

Ancient Music of Scandinavia: Ice and Longboats

Ancient Music of Scandinavia: Ice and Longboats
Ancient Music of Scandinavia: Ice and Longboats; Åke Egevad, Jens Egevad, Ensemble Mare Balticum, Ensemble Mare Balticum; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 13 2016
Star rating: 4.0

The second in Delphian's European Music Archaeology Project disc, trying to evoke the music of ancient Scandinavia

We do not know very much about Viking music, just enough to know that they made music but a frustrating lack of information about what it sounded like. There are a few visual clues, and of course items from the archaeological record, but little in the way of written description.

This new disc from Delphian, the second in their series produced in collaboration with the European Music Archaeology Project (see my review of The Ancient Music of Scotland) solves the problem in two ways. First we have performances on instruments reconstructed on the basis of archaeological finds. And then there are performances of music from the earliest written records, music from the Christian period from 1050 to 1530 AD. There is something of a gap between the two periods, and the booklet makes no claims for the survival of elements of the earlier musical culture in the later one. But clearly the very juxtaposition of the two is fun, and makes you think. The disc is performed by the musicians and instrument makers Åke Egevad and Jens Egevad (father and son), and Ensemble Mare Balticum (Ute Goedecke, Per Mattson, Stefan Wikstrom, Cajsa S Lund) with soprano Aino Lund Lavoipierre.

The Viking era music is played using the bone flute (a type of recorder), the lyre (which is based on a surviving bridge, and surviving one from Germany), the Nordic bowed lyre, wooden lurs (trumpets) based on one found in the Viking ship grave in Oseberg, southern Norway, a reconstructed hornpipe (a species of bagpipe) and frame drums. Inevitably what is actually played is invented, and clearly influenced by knowledge of other folk traditions. Perhaps the most fun track is the second, where they create some sort of 'religious happening' using three wooden lurs and a large frame drum, which really shows what the instruments can do.

The sequence of later music involves a whole host of short tracks each sampling music from surviving early manuscript sources, Marian songs and hymns but also ones dedicated to local saints such as the Swedish national Saint Erik. Most of these are given in versions for voice and a selection of instruments such as symphony, tambourine, bone recorder, bells, medieval harp, tromba marina and Jews harp. I would rather have liked to hear more of the songs, and having one or two minute fragments seems rather short. The combination of voices and instruments is a very attractive one, and something which for a period started to go out of fashion in medieval music.

Little in the way of secular music survives, so we get one piece three ways (which is rather fun) along with instrumental arrangements of sacred songs.

This is much more of an exploration than a musical recital, though clearly the performers have tried to keep the idea of the listening public in mind. What it does do is give you an idea of what we know, and what it sounds like.

Ancient Music of Scandinavia: Ice and Longboats
Åke and Jens Egevad
Ensemble Mare Balticum (Ute Goedecke, Per Mattson, Stefan Wikstrom, Aino Lund Lavoipierre)
Recorded 5-8 September 2015, Oppmanna Parish Church, Sweden
DELPHIAN 1CD [79.28]

Available from Amazon.co.uk.

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