Trio Mediæval, Folk Songs (ECM Records, 2007)

Trio Mediæval are a Norwegian/Swedish female vocal trio consisting of Torunn Østrem Ossum, Anna Maria Friman, and Linn Andrea Fuglseth. They have worked together since 1997. While much of their repertoire consists of sacred music and contemporary compositions, they are well versed in the folk music of their homelands. The title of their 2007 CD Folk Songs is as self-explanatory as it gets; accompanied only by Birger Mistereggen on percussion and jew's harp, the trio sing traditional ballads from the old villages in Norway, many of which go back to the Middle Ages.

Like a typical collection of folk songs, the songs range from topics that are universal over time -- a number of the songs are religious, two are children's lullabies, and of course there are some love songs -- to the more exotic and fantastic. "Villemann and Magnhild" is a Medieval ballad in which Villemann, the hero, rescues the maiden Magnhild and drains a troll of his strength simply by stroking his harp. "Rolandskvadet" is a Norse interpretation of the French legend "The Song of Roland." The folk songs of Norway and Sweden, especially when sung by women, have a distinctive lilt to them that's hard to describe if you haven't heard one. They're not alliterative or percussive in the way that Finnish songs tend to be, but there's something about the way the vowels are pronounced that didn't pass down from the Norse end of the Germanic languages into modern English. This makes the voices seem otherworldly, and hard to really capture in words for the uninitiated. But if Nordic singing is an acquired taste, those who've acquired it will find the overall sound of Folk Songs quite lovely. The harmonies are exquisite, and the percussion is sparse but very effective. My one criticism is that the songs all effect the listeners in a similar way, and there isn't enough variety to sustain an album exceeding an hour in length.

Still, Trio Mediæval do a very nice job on the whole, and I'd recommend Folk Songs to anybody who likes Scandinavian singing. I'm never certain what recording will work as a good introduction for somebody not familiar with Nordic music, but people who like vocal music or have a general interest in the music of the Middle Ages will probably find plenty to pique their interest on this album.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

"Gjendines Bådnlåt (Gjendine's Lullaby)"

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