Hirundo Maris - Chants du Sud et du Nord
1. El mestre [6:33]
2. Buenas noches [5:49]
3. Ya salió de la mar [2:36]
4. Om kvelden [4:38]
5. El mariner [6:14]
6. Le Chant des étoiles [3:44]
7. Morena me llaman [6:10]
8. Bendik og Årolilja [7:01]
9. Ormen Lange [2:50]
10. Tarantela [4:46]
11. The Water Is Wide [5:24]
12. El noi de la mare [3:32]
13. Josep i Maria [3:28]
14. Penselstrøk [5:19]
15. Halling [2:53]
16. Yo m’enamorí d’un aire [5:35]
17. Trollmors vuggesang [3:13]
Arianna Savall (voice, Gothic harp, Italian triple harp), Petter Udland Johansen (voice, hardanger fiddle, mandolin), Sveinung Lilleheier (guitar, dobro, voice), Miquel Àngel Cordero (double-bass, voice), David Mayoral (percussion, voice).
rec. January 2011, Propstei St. Gerold
ECM NEW SERIES 2227 [79:54]

Having raved about Rolf Lislevand’s Nuove Musiche release on ECM (see review) and seeing Arianna Savall’s name at the top of this programme of Chants de Sud et du Nord, I leapt at the chance to hear it. The songs here are described as “the exciting world of hidden treasures contained in the many traditional songs of Norway, Catalonia and the Judaeo-Spanish/Sephardic/Ladino ballads… a journey linking the Mediterranean with the North Sea.” 

Hirundo Maris
is Latin for “sea swallow”. Arianna Savall and co-leader Petter Udland Johansen’s quintet, defined as part early music ensemble and part folk group, flies between these ancient waterways, adding one or two of their own songs as they go.
As you might expect, the overall impression is of gentler, more overtly lyrical repertoire when compared to Lislevand’s more instrumental, lute-based recording. These ECM discs are certainly complimentary, and you can expect one or other to pop up as related material in your search engines, including Lislevand’s Diminuito. Arianna Savall’s clear vocal tones are a defining element in Hirundo Maris, but Petter Udland Johansen’s vocal contributions are equally heartwarming, and they frequently join to create a marvellously complimentary duo. The arrangements have all been made with a subtle touch, blending the brightness of harp and mandolin tones with the harmonic underpinning of double bass and guitar, and as much illustrative as rhythmic percussion timbres.
A central song in this programme is the Catalonian El mariner, in which the sea is evoked and the story told of love between a Mediterranean girl and a knight from the North. It is certainly not an easy task to pick out highlights from such a richly varied and beautifully performed selection, but of the original work Arianna Savall’s own Le chant des étoiles is a disarmingly simple and gorgeously expressive instrumental number, and Johansen’s Penselstrøk is another charmer, if perhaps a little on the sentimental side with its descending harmonies.
The feel of a link to a long lost and distant past is very strong indeed with many of these songs. Traditional narratives such as the tragic tale of Bendik og Årolilja are timeless and deeply moving, as are lullabies such as El noi de la mare and the lovelorn Scot who sings The Water is Wide - beautifully done, but alas, dere’s no escaping de Norwegian accent. There are more modern associations with the jazzy bass which crops up in more lively numbers such as Ormen lange, and there are no doubt elements in this recording to make the purists go off in a sniffy huff. I couldn’t care less. As the booklet notes mention, the oral tradition with which many of these songs have been passed down “is growing ever more fragile, to the point that we are in danger of losing this precious transmission”, so such a means of preserving and widening awareness of these songs can only be a good thing. When it comes to creating the arrangements, “from a very personal angle, we have started with a monodic line and we have created and imagined a new sound space that faithfully reflects what we are aiming to transmit and convey.” This personal angle is genuinely felt and entirely absorbing, and ticks all of the buds in my own tastebox.
Alongside ECM’s usual richly resonant recording this release is also provided with complete song texts with English translations. There is a remarkable amount of variety in the sounds to be found here, from the harps and mandolin already mentioned, there are also the drones and lamenting lines which emanate from Johansen’s Hardanger fiddle, and something of a surprise in an instrument called the Dobro, a variant on the guitar with an added resonator more often heard in bluegrass music. Filled with poignancy and scintillation, this is a magical recording which casts its spell both wide and deep.
Dominy Clements

A magical recording which casts a spell both wide and deep.