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The Image of Melancholy
see end of review for track listing
Jon Balke (organ / soundscapes); Berit Norbakken Solset (soprano); Milos Valent (viola); Barokksolistene/Bjarte Eike (violin)
rec. October 2011 and March 2012, Selbu church, Selbu, Norway
BIS-SACD-2057 [66:28]

The Image of Melancholy is the kind of title which at the very least lays its cards on the table. No wild abandoned dancing in the streets is to be expected from this music, but if you fancy revelling in the way Victor Hugo defined it, with melancholy as ‘the pleasure of being sad’, then this is a delicious place to pause, reflect, and perhaps mourn a little. Acclaimed baroque violinist Bjarte Eike has popped up on titles such as the Handel & contemporaries disc London Calling! (see review), and Schmelzer & Co (see review). He conceived this programme for his period band Barokksolistene as a personal ‘image of melancholy’, writing in the booklet, “for me, melancholy is not only synonymous with sadness and despair, it is a state also harbouring reflection, meditation and relief.”
Such a selection of pieces stands or falls by its performance and to a certain extent the context of the works. Eike’s violin often melts into the sound of the other instruments, at times colouring the solo lines with a kind of hardanger folk-soulfulness, at other times keeping to a more mainstream baroque character and allowing for greater solo flexibility in specialist works such as Biber’s Die Kreutzertragung from the well-known Mystery Sonatas. Berit Norbakken Solset’s voice is perfect for the simplicity of arrangement chosen for songs such as Dowland’s Sorrow, stay, its purity of tone suitably timeless in the lullaby Gjendines bådnlåt, which is given a gently swirling electronic accompaniment not unlike an organ. Jon Balke’s soundscapes in this and the meditation on Susanne un jour called Introducing Susanne are good enough as far as they go, keeping the ‘live’ feel of the music though sympathetic keyboard work and adding a sense of temporal surrealism, but falling short of being truly inspired. Eike is quite candid about the eclectic nature of his choice of pieces, writing that the music “does not belong to any particular style, nationality or period in time; it’s rather a string of tunes that have all had a personal significance to me, and that together form a musical matrimony between a Nordic melancholy, the rich sounds of the Elizabethan consort and a modern approach to music-making.”
The sound of the Barokksolistene playing together is for me the strongest sonic aspect of the recording, from the restraint on show in Buxtehudes harmonic labyrinth in the beautiful Klag-Lied to the fuller sonorities of Holborne’s The image of melancholy or Last will and testament. There is light relief amongst the lamentations, and Holborne’s galliard Muy linda is an uplifting break from sadness, as is the Dowland Galliard ‘Susanna’ further on. More contrast follows with viola player Milos Valent’s emotive vocals in Joj Mati or ‘Oh mother, dear mother’, and another traditional sounding but deeply groovy Evertsbergs gamla brudmarsch. You can’t have a programme on melancholy without Dowland’s Flow, my tears, and the light and shade in this version is delightful. The final two pieces go straight to the heart of the matter, drawing out the real spirit of melancholy and uniting its Nordic spirit with that of the Elizabethan consort.
BIS have a rich resource with mixed releases of this kind, and this title will sit nicely alongside something like Emilia Amper’s Trolfågeln (see review). The recording is perfect, the music capable of transporting us to far away - geographically, but also more importantly on those priceless inner wanderings which can show us more about ourselves than we imagined.
Dominy Clements  

Track listing

Bjarte EIKE (b. 1972)
Savn - a tune for Signe [2:59]
Anthony HOLBORNE (c. 1545-1602)
The image of melancholy, pavane [5:33]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Sorrow, stay [2:58]
Traditional / arr. Bjarte Eike
Bjørnsons bruremarsj [2:46]
Wanton, galliard [1:08]
Traditional / arr. Jon Balke/Bjarte Eike
Gjendines bådnlåt [4:25]
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von BIBER (1644-1704)
Die Kreuztragung (‘The carrying of the Cross’)
Sonata (1st movement) [2:43]
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Klag-Lied (‘Lament’) [3:46]
Muy linda, galliard [2:06]
Traditional / arr. Milos Valent
Joj Mati (‘Oh, mother, dear mother’) [3:00]
Traditional / arr. Bjarte Eike
Evertsbergs gamla brudmarsch [1:39]
Traditional / arr. Jon Balke/Bjarte Eike
Bånsull [2:53]
Last will and testament, pavane [3:30]
Ruaidri Dáll Ó Catháin / arr. Bjarte Eike
Tabhair dom do lámh (‘Give me your hand’) [5:25]
Flow, my tears / Lachrimae antiquae [4:24]
Jon BALKE (b. 1955)
Introducing Susanne - a meditation on Susanne 'un jour' [1:51]
Johann Sommer / arr. Bjarte Eike
Devising Susanne, pavane with divisions [2:46]
Gaillard ‘Susanna’ [1:11]
William BYRD (1540-1623)
Ye sacred muses [4:18]
Niel GOW (1727-1807) / arr. Bjarte Eike
Niel Gow’s lament for the death of his second wife [5:35]