Folk Songs – Trio Mediaeval – ECM

by | Oct 15, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Folk Songs – Trio Mediaeval – ECM B0009888-02, 61:43 ***1/2:

Trio Mediaeval is rapidly becoming to ECM what Anonymous 4 is to Harmonia Mundi. They have enjoyed enormous success with their previous three albums, and this one is likely to join them, though it is a little different in tone. What we have from these young ladies is a selection of Norwegian folksong-based pieces that have been set and transcribed from various sources. Those looking for pristine folk song singing from this region are likely to be disappointed, and the addition of percussion, however authentic the practice or the instruments, is still a contrived performance choice for this recording, and not necessarily reflective of how any of these songs many or may not have been rendered.

So having issued the disclaimers, what is the rest of the music like? Well, that depends on your openness to this kind of arranged album. Many deplore the idea of folk songs, whether of medieval origin or not, in rather modern guises, though composers have been at this sort of thing for many years. Some of this music is quite beautiful, even haunting. Other pieces strike me as rather repetitive, drone-like, and monotonous. I freely admit that this may be the result of my own ingrained preferences, and I certainly cannot fault the ladies in their performances, which are sterling. And I cannot disagree with those who would disagree with me on my impressions. But they are what they are, and this to me is one of the least interesting albums the group has envisioned, though considering their national origins it was bound to come about sooner or later.

There are twenty selections here, and many use what the notes refer to as tulling, a style of singing without words, where a sequence of consonants is invented by the singer. I suppose you could consider this somewhat similar to a vocalise, or for jazz fans, even related to the practice of scat singing (albeit in a different sort of context). Nevertheless, it is an interesting technique, done very well here. I was also surprised to see that one of the songs is actually The Song of Roland, the oldest literary manuscript that we know of in French history, over 4000 lines, here summarized in about four stanzas. But I did not know that the story had made its way into Norwegian folklore, and a comparison of the text showed that indeed it is the same Roland and the same eighth-century pre-crowned Charlemagne story.

The sound is pure ECM, probably one of the most consistently excellent companies recording today, and they know how to capture a women’s trio. Caveats aside, this will please most of their fans, and those like me who are griping will just have to wait until the next release.

— Steven Ritter

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