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Northern Dances: Folk Music from Scandinavia and Estonia
Gunnar Idenstam (organ), Erik Rydvall (nyckelharpa)
rec. 2018, Kristiansand Cathedral

This is a very unusual offering and one that is most welcome. Not merely is the music enjoyable and rewarding, but the performances and the choice of instrumentation create a delightful sound world, strange but strangely affecting. This is perfect late-night listening, filled with unexpected delights.

The conjunction of brass instrument and orchestra is historically common – that of nyckelharpa and organ is neither expected nor common. Special questions of balance must apply, and, given the well-known difficulties of recording organ works, the combination of organ with a rather delicate solo stringed instrument must have created special challenges, here splendidly met.

The Klais Organ, from 2013, is a very interesting instrument, and on this evidence a fine one (the full specification is provided in the notes). Among its unusual features is the ability to play the 36 bell carillon in the cathedral tower from Manual 4; the bells are heard occasionally here.

The nyckelharpa is a curious folk instrument, which has gone through various forms. Originally carved from a single piece of timber, for many years it was little played, but in the last half century, interest has revived.In appearance it is a little like a narrow violin, though longer (the f holes are an innovation), but it has affinities to the hurdy-gurdy. It is played with a bow. The modern version, used here, the ‘chromatic nickelharpa’ has 3 melody strings (tuned A1-C1-G), and a drone (C). There are also 12 keys, three for each string. Different players have adopted different poses for playing it – most common is to hold it a little like a guitar, supported by the right arm, as Rydvall does. Others prefer to play it upright or even on the lap. What is evident is both its variety of sound and virtuoso possibilities.

The programme is varied in tone in feeling and origin. Even if, at first sight of the titles, there appears to be a preponderance of Polskas, this Swedish folk dance form has many variations. Normally performed by couples, and in ¾ time, it is open to considerable variation, as in the Ockelbogubbarnas favorit Polska with its baroque touches and general stateliness (‘gubbarna’are old codgers, so the gravity is appropriate). Storhuven, another Polska, by contrast, is swift and lively.

Performances have an improvisatory quality, yet never fail in musicality. Notes are very informative, and all concerned are to be congratulated for this lovely box of delights.

Michael Wilkinson

Gunnar IDENSTAM (b.1961)/ Erik RYDVALL (b. 1983)
Northern Dances [2.50]
Springar after Sølve-Knut [4.29]
Arne MODÉN (1936-2015)
Church March [3.02]
Estonian Chorale
Ma kiitlen ykspäinis (‘I praise one man’) [4.27]
Maria’s Wedding Waltz [4.21]
Estonian Chorale
Oh Kristus valgus oled saa (‘Oh Christ, Thou art the Light’) [6.33]
Polska in D after Sven Donat [3.46]
Northern Stories [3.29]
Ockelbogubbarnas favorit Polska from Gästrikland [3.03]
Polska in A minor from the Sexdrega Collection [2.58]
Polska in A minor [3.03]
Storhuven [3.59]
Polska from Östra Ryd after Anders Larsson [2.48]
Ale MÖLLER (b.1955)
Svanen (‘The Swan’) [3.33]
Polska from Åre after Lapp-Nils [4.02]
Storebråten [3.44]
Polones in G major from Andreas Höök’s collection [2.14]
March after Hans Brimi [4..47]
Northern Bells [3.34]

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