The Norwegian approach to folk music has a unique quality.
One might compare it with the Irish, where the character
of folklore resonates in the air. In Norway it is embedded
in the mountains, forests and lakes which have remained largely – superficially
- to untrained foreign eyes - unchanged for ages. In this
same way the character of folk music is ingrained into Lasse
Thoresen’s Løpp, lokk og linjar (Chases, Cattle Calls
The piece is in five movements, each with a distinctive character,
but related by what Thoresen refers to as ‘three spheres
of sound …: contemporary music, folk music, and animal sounds – first
and foremost birdsong.’ Thoresen has ‘tried as far as possible
to retain characteristic textures and intervals when transferring
birdsong and folk song from their state of pre-notation innocence
to the theoretically founded environment of Western art music.’ The
Hardanger fiddle, for instance, is a strong feature of the
first movement, Ovringar, whose atmospheric and sustained
nature is ‘a study in appearance and disappearance, clarity
and vagueness.’ Some of the original Hardanger fiddle music
is said to have been created as the result of encounters
with wood nymphs, and Berit Opheim’s gentle vocals grow out
of the instrumental textures like the imagination at work,
creating human shapes and faces in the patterns of nature.
The movement concludes with deeper, earthier sonorities which
reflect earthiness and roots, and closes with a cool, inconclusive
The second movement, Heomreisa. Mellombels is in some
ways the Scherzo, being a sort intermezzo based around
folksy rhythms and some delightfully uplifting singing, appreciated
through applause from the musicians. Farting low brass and
syncopated rhythmic snaps serve to heighten this movement’s
Fuglar, fe og folk is the central, and in many
ways the most important movement. Dwelling on animal sounds
and cattle calls, repeated notes
early on recall Messiaen’s ‘Oiseaux exotiques’, and the cattle
are conjured by cowbells and lowing brass. Cattle calls taken
from a number of sources are integrated into the music, and
immediately cast a spell which means vast, echoing distances
and lonely countryside. One can’t help associating the birdsong
with Messiaen, but Thoresen’s approach has its own distinctive
orchestration – the piccolo appears as might be expected,
but in its less accustomed lower, more throaty register.
The mixture of animal/natural with human/agrarian sounds
soon dispel any direct comparison with Messiaen. I find it
harder to resist the comparison with a Mahlerian symphony
however, and at about halfway through this movement there
are some trumpet solo lines which might have Gustav beating
on the lid of his coffin.
the fourth, ‘adagio’ movement, derived from improvisations
recorded by Berit Opheim. The opening is a kind of lament,
and the sustained and expressive character is taken up by
the ensemble, quarter-tones included. This music has a special
introverted, private, nocturnal character which draws the
listener in – some sounds appearing almost shyly, others
being placed in explicit and even sometimes dramatic mode.
The darkly ecstatic conclusion sets a contradictory seal
on a fascinating study.
The last movement, Rudlatradl, is based on a ‘trall’,
which is a vocal performance of instrumental dance music.
Some of the rhythmic nature of the second movement is recalled
here, as well as low, grunting brass and contrabassoon parts.
Tapping feet which drive the rhythm eventually take over,
and the country band kicks in joyfully, followed by a meandering
coda in the contrabassoon and ending in characteristic rustic
The overall impression of this disc is of carefully considered
and profoundly felt creativity. The musicianship of soloist
and ensemble is beyond question, and the recording is excellent.
Lasse Thoresen’s feeling for his own folk heritage and his
observations of the natural sounds which inhabit the landscape
of his country run through this music like the words through
a stick of Brighton rock, and while there is some technically
challenging contemporary music to get your teeth into, there
is always an attractive sense of fun and intellectual playfulness
running just below the surface.