Lysøen - Hommage à Ole Bull
Belg og slag
Theme from Nocturne
Eg ser deg utfor gluggjen
I Rosenlund under Sagas Hall / La Folia
Jeg har så lun en hytte
Nils Økland (violin, hardanger fiddle), Sigbjørn Apeland (piano, harmonium)
rec. September 2009/January 2010, Villa Lysøen, Hordaland, Norway
ECM 2179 [62:04]
Norwegian violinist and composer Ole Bull (1810-1880) was very much inspired by the landscape and nature of his native country. His description of the island of Lysøen opens the booklet notes for this release: “I have never seen anything which attracts me so mysteriously ... The atmosphere is certainly very peculiar, [and] the grand views of the mountain must be seen with caution or they will overpower you.” Bull bought Lysøen in 1872, and Nils Økland and Sigbjørn Apeland are the first musicians to record an album in the magnificent wooden villa he had built there.
With this environment, and extensive use of the harmonium which was the last musical sound Ole Bull heard as his wife played a passage from Mozart’s Requiem as he passed away, this is already a recording highly charged with atmosphere and expressive poignancy. The musicians chose to “emphasise the contemplative” in their programme, which includes versions of music associated with Bull, such as Grieg’s Solveig’s Song. Grieg played that harmonium in the music hall of the villa during Bull’s funeral ceremony, seeing him as his ‘saviour’, showing him the beauty and originality of Norwegian folk music. For this and other traditional or traditional-sounding pieces the nasal tones of the hardanger fiddle are expertly and movingly played by Nils Økland. The piece here, as are many others, is played as if being recalled from a distance, gathered in and brought to ghostly life from the surrounding air. The effect is at times one of almost unbearable sentiments of loneliness and lament.
The programme opens with Stusle Sundagskvelden or ‘Dismal Sunday Evening’, which sets up the mood nicely. The players introduce the theme, and improvise further within the same feeling and atmosphere, Sigbjørn Apeland’s piano at times moving towards something comparable to Keith Jarrett in contemplative mode – an aspect which I only mention in order to give an idea of style: he also manages to keep within some unwritten boundary which prevents the improvised playing clashing with the original themes and harmonies. The musicians acknowledge their contemporaries in terms of influence when it comes to improvisation, and they are not attempting a re-creation of Bull’s manner of playing.
Ole Bull’s pieces, of which there are four in this set – La Mélanicolie appears in two versions – are also adapted with a good deal of freedom, something for which the composer himself was noted in his style of performing. There is a good deal of what one might term ‘new simplicity’ or spirituality in these versions which might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but while there is a weight of melancholy around much of the music there is no denying its timeless power. Belg og slag and Grålysning are fascinating inventions by the musicians themselves, exploring the resonance of the harmonium along with an unusual ostinato bouncing over the strings of the fiddle. Use is also made of a so-called troll-tuning scordatura effect to alter the sound of the stringed instrument, which improvises over a halo of gentle notes from the piano.
There is only one piece which really lightens the melancholy mood of this programme, but the Ole Bull-vals on fiddle and harmonium is a sheer delight. The violin used here is Ole Bull’s own 1734 Guarneri which adds another frisson to the recording. Each of the pieces here has its own strength, but I was particularly drawn to the lonely musical landscape of Eg ser deg utfor gluggjen or ‘I See You outside the Window’, with its growling harmonium bass lines. The directness of emotional contact with traditional melodies such as Jeg har så lun en hytte or Sylkje-Per with their open intervals and feel of honest expression are also impossible to pass by.
This is a recording which, all things combined, has something quite magical about it. As I say, it won’t necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea, and if you are prone to introspective misery then this may either work as a homeopathic cure or tip you over the edge into even darker realms. For myself I found myself quite profoundly moved by every aspect of this recording’s content, which is sympathetically produced to reflect the fairly intimate nature of the location’s interiors; these in turn being illustrated in the booklet.
Melancholy, but quite magical.