Maria’s Song
Sinikka LANGELAND (b.1961)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Lova lova Lina [3:38]
Meine Seele erhebet den Herren, BWV 648 (organ) [2:32]
Ave Maria [5:00]
Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007: Prélude (viola) [2:17]
The angel Gabriel greets Mary [1:20]
Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007: Allemande (viola) [3:34]
But the angel said to her [1:01]
Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007: Courante (viola) [2:32]
He will be great [1:07]
Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007: Sarabande (viola) [2:35]
Mary asked the angel [1:28]
Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007: Menuet I & II (viola) [3:01]
Even Elizabeth [0:58]
Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007: Suite No.1 in G major: Gigue (viola) [1:27]
Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar, BWV 607 (organ)/ I am the Lord's servant [1:17]
Lova lova Lina [3:38]
Fuga sopra il Magnificat, BWV 733 (organ) [5:10]
Mary visits Elizabeth [0:54]
Kantele [0:58]
Concerto in d minor, BWV 596: I. (without tempo indication)(organ) / She was filled with the Holy Spirit [1:00]
Blessed is she who has believed [0:22]
Concerto in d minor, BWV 596: II. Fuga (organ) [4:07]
Song of Mary [2:19]
Kantele [0:53]
Concerto in d minor, BWV 596: III. Largo e spiccato (organ)/ His mercy extends to those who fear him [2:58]
Concerto in d minor, BWV 596: IV. (without tempo indication)(organ) [3:31]
Kyrie [2:05]
Partita No. 2 in d minor, BWV 1004: Chaconne (viola)/ Ave Maria [13:04]
Sinikka Langeland (voice, kantele); Lars Anders Tomter (viola); Kåre Nordstoga (organ)
rec. February 2008, Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim
ECM RECORDS ECM 2127 (2717097) [72:11]

This is a fascinating disc which starts off merely having a great deal going for it, and ends up becoming more than the sum of its seemingly disparate parts. This will however only be your response if you are prepared to accept a mixing and matching of what on the face of it appear to be entirely different musical worlds. We’ve been treated to many kinds of ‘crossover’ albums before now, and the ECM label has its own niche in this regard. The meeting of, say, a jazz saxophonist with a medieval choir, wouldn’t have been anyone’s idea of a bestseller not so many years ago. A Norwegian folk singer singing in her own national/personal style set alongside a violinist and organist playing Bach is therefore perhaps not such a huge leap after all.

Folk music is the mainstay of Sinikka Langeland’s highly distinctive performing, but she is clearly more than willing to see the boundaries between her own background and idiom blurred and redefined in her recording projects. Described as a ‘non-traditional traditionalist’, her previous ECM CD Starflowers saw her working with improvising jazz musicians. Maria’s Song has an entirely different atmosphere, but this has plenty to do with the theme around which the music revolves. To quote Langeland’s own booklet notes, “Religious folk songs are among the most distinctive elements of Norwegian folk music, but the Virgin Mary is only represented with a few variants of the hymn ‘Maria hun er Jomfru ren’ (Mary is a virgin pure). The reason for this is obvious: she was ‘reformed’ away in 1537 along with a large number of beautiful church paintings and sculptures, and anyone who persisted in worshipping her risked harsh punishment. But the myth of the Virgin Mary lives on in the Norwegian folk tradition in the form of nicknames for flowers and in the legends that are recounted in folksongs and sagas.”

Sinikka Langeland has combined Bach with Norwegian hymns before, so this CD furthers of a line of recordings. The First half of the programme alternates Medieval ballads with Bach’s Suite No.1 for cello, played here on the viola with great panache by Lars Anders Tomter. The tonality and mood of the pieces is carefully matched, the thrilling ‘de-tuned’ folk scales sometimes making the Bach seem a bit middle-of-the-road. Compare the version of He Will be Great and Mary Asked the Angel with their quasi quarter-tone relationships, with the sandwiched Sarabande, making it seems relaxed and easy by comparison. These tonal scrunches in the voice take on a different quality again when compared with the Baroque tuning of the organ, but in each case the melodic shapes and the sheer qualities inherent in the music bring both styles and idioms closer together than one could have imagined before the disc started.

This reaches its logical climax where Langeland joins with the organ, her open ‘mountain/fjord’ singing voice more than equal to that instrument and soaring above it in a remarkable way. This is not always entirely comfortable listening, and if you are looking for the kind of meditative experience often created by Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble then this is something entirely different. Kåre Nordstoga is principal organist at Oslo Cathedral and is a recognised Bach performer. His playing is superb throughout, but makes no compromise in terms of ‘accompanying’ the singer - it is she who adapts her melodies to the Bach rather than the two forming a particularly unified ensemble, although the sung melodies and the Bach do link remarkably well. The opening of the Concerto in D minor with voice is quite dramatic, especially with the entry of the Fugue after the few notes of Blessed is she who has Believed. More sustained is the Largo e spiccato, but still with an edge which is more Nyman than new-age. The final track is the complete Chaconne from the Partita No.2 in D minor BWV 1004, against which Langeland sings an Ave Maria. With the two ‘voices’ closer in range this is a more risky venture than with the organ, but escapes sounding like cats fighting in a bag. Langeland wisely keeps things simple while the viola dives through playing melodies and harmony at the same time, and makes herself absent for significant periods.

Other highlights include the second version of Lova Lova Lina which is beautiful in the simplicity of its bell-like kantele sonorities, and I’m just a big old softie for all of the kantale solos. Just the sound of those gently beaten resonant strings is good enough for me, never mind that it’s marvellous music as well.

This is a fine and fascinating disc. I’m not always entirely convinced by the recording of the voice, which seems to push the equipment to some kind of limit at times. I’m sure a little more distance might have cured this, though the resonance of the Nidaros Cathedral might have become too swampy as result. I’ve tried this on the best equipment I could find, and the effect of a kind of overtone overload remains, though this is not something which should really put people off. Sinikka Langeland’s open ‘outdoor’ vocal sound is easy to listen too, though should not be compared with your average soprano or mezzo – operatic or otherwise. If broadening your horizons is a priority in your search for interesting new sounds and combinations of programming, then this CD might well do the trick – it certainly has plenty spirit, in all senses of the word.

Dominy Clements

Spirited, and spiritual.