Faun, Renaissance (Noir, 2005) and Buch der Balladen (Banshee Records, 2009)

Germany has a very active scene for bands performing music from, and inspired by, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  I've already reviewed albums by Corvus Corax and Adaro, and the latest of these bands to get my attention is a group called Faun.  Faun are a little bit different from the other German neo-Medieval bands I know in that they're more strongly influenced by contemporary European folk music, particularly from Scandinavia.  Their fourth album Renaissance was released in 2005, while their sixth studio album Buch der Balladen (The Book of Ballads) came out in 2009.

The Faun lineup on Renaissance consisted of original members Oliver "Sa Tyr" Pade (vocals, bouzouki, nyckelharpa, harp, jews harp), Elisabeth Pawelke (vocals and hurdy gurdy), and Fiona Rüggeberg (vocals, whistles and recorders, bagpipes), plus Rüdiger Maul (percussion) and Niel Mitra (electronics).  The wide range of instruments enable Faun to achieve a more diverse sound than you might normally expect from a Medieval album.  Most of the lead vocals are shared by the women, perhaps owing some debt to Scandinavian bands like Hedningarna and Ranarim, and the songs are sung in several different languages.  The song "Da Que Deus" and the instrumental "Rhiannon" are performed in a jig rhythm, giving the album a bit of a Celtic flavor, but the modal melodies evoke a time well before jigs became associated primarily with Ireland.  Faun also venture into Middle Eastern, belly-dance style music on the song "Sirena." While there are some electronic touches in the arrangements, they are generally subtle.  The percussion is likewise mostly subtle, but the exceptions like "Satyros" and "Iyansa" are some of the album's highlights.

For the new CD, Pawelke was replaced by Sandra Elflein. (Elflein was herself replaced earlier this year by a singer named Raida.) Faun set to music segments from legends and epic poems, with particular emphasis on the connection between Norse legends and the folklore of their homeland. Much of Buch der Balladen revolves around the legends surrounding Sigurd and Gudrun and the saga of the Nibelungs.  Although the earliest written versions of these stories come from Iceland, they form a major part of German folklore as well and were of course immortalized in the operas of Richard Wagner. They have been translated into English as well by several authors, including J. R. R. Tolkien. Faun use texts from the Faroe Islands (yes, them again) for their own arrangements, as opposed to the more familiar Icelandic edda. The international flavor to the music on Buch der Balladen continues with "Herr Heinerich," a German translation of a Scottish ballad about a king's encounter with troll, a mythical monster of Scandinavian creation. Faun follow this with the instrumental "Sen Polska," a type of Swedish folk dance. Other ballads on the album include "Der Wilde Wassermann," a German legend about an encounter with a water elemental, and "Belle Dame Sans Merci," a German version of an English poem (by John Keats) with a French title.

Musically, Faun are as much a contemporary folk band as they are Medieval re-creationists. They aren't academically committed, the way Sequentia were on their album Edda, to re-create performances as they would have sounded in the great halls of Medieval Germanic Europe, but they do put care into their arrangements and come up with some really nice music as a result. These arrangements are not as elaborate or as technically difficult as ones you might find on other folk recordings (compare "Sen Polska" with any polska on a Väsen CD, for example), but Faun succeed in turning their relative simplicity into a virtue. As far as early music goes I'm partial to the sound of the hurdy-gurdy, and consequently to songs like "Herr Heinerich" and "Jahrtausendalt."

Faun have been performing together for close to a decade at this point, and have built up a impressive body of music. Fans of the Medieval elements in contemporary folk music will like them a lot.

Overall grades:
Renaissance B+
Buch der Balladen A-

reviewed by Scott

A live performance of "Herr Heinerich"

1 comment:

AnnMarie Tornabene said...

Interestingly, I prefer Renaissance to Buch der Balladen. Perhaps because I hear more of a rawness in Renaissance. Now I need to research the other groups you make reference to :)