“We would like to see this recording as our contribution to a living, oral tradition; although these songs bear our musical imprint, they are coloured by all those who have performed and passed on the music before us.”
The Trio Mediaeval have included Norwegian folk songs in their concert repertoire from the beginning of their history. Now this material is the subject of an extraordinary new album, the fourth disc from the Norwegian-Swedish trio, augmented here by percussionist Birger Mistereggen. Its intensely melodic programme - of music the singers have known since childhood - incorporates a wide array of spontaneous interaction and the most diverse vocal techniques, colours, moods and atmospheres. The recording of these ballads, hymns and lullabies arranged for voices and percussion is above all a celebration of music that has long inspired them. The disc’s release also coincides with the trio’s tenth anniversary as a performing group.
Faithful to the musical spirit of the songs and to the storyline of the texts, the Trio’s interpretations of these folk pieces are also strikingly original. As might be expected of a group renowned for its challenges to orthodoxy (the early sacred pieces in their repertoire, after all, were not intended to be sung by women), the trio do not make “authenticity” a goal, but approach the music in a very fresh way, making it “wonderfully alive” (as the Washington Post noted of their folk song performances in 2005).
Folk music, of course, is based on oral tradition, and the multitude of contemporary arrangements and interpretations available underlines their continued importance in Norway’s musical life. The country’s wide and varied heritage of folk music is well documented and researched and, crucially, folk music has remained a living tradition in Norway. It has inspired many musicians from different backgrounds, a phenomenon that can be clearly observed on numerous ECM jazz releases from Jan Garbarek to Frode Haltli and Christian Wallumrød. (In fact one of the tunes recorded by the trio here, the wedding march from Gudbrandsdalen, made its first appearance on an ECM disc 35 years ago, on Garbarek’s “Triptykon”). Trio Mediaeval are not improvisers in a ‘jazz’ sense but their interpretative freedom and spontaneity has caught the attention of jazz musicians (and led to recent live collaborations with Tord Gustavsen, Arve Henriksen, and others).
For their “Folk Songs” project, the trio decided to integrate percussionist Birger Mistereggen, who broadens their sonic spectrum by adding an archaic, and viscerally thrilling, rhythmic counterpoint to the elegant vocal blend. Mistereggen says, “We like to think of the percussion as an earthen element, beneath the ethereal voices up there in the skies.” The notion of accompanying songs with percussion is uncommon today but not arbitrary, and the voice/drums blend has a history in Norwegian folk music that can be traced back to at least the 17th century. The importance of the drums to the folk tradition is explained in the performers’ note in the CD booklet.
“Folk Songs” is the first of the trio’s ECM discs made with the active participation of Manfred Eicher as recording producer (John Potter having supervised recording of the previous discs). Songs selected for the recording made in the generous acoustics of the Austrian monastery of St. Gerold stem from regions such as Vestfold or Telemark and many of them have been sung by the great folk singers of the north. The Trio’s record pays tribute to the influential Norwegian folk trio “Tiriltunga” but most of the arrangements here were shaped by Linn Andrea Fugleseth and Tone Krohn, a folksinger from Linn’s hometown Sanderfjord in the Vestfold county.
The new album will be presented at a special launch event as part of the Ultima Contemporary Music Festival in Oslo on September 30. The trio follows with further concerts in Norway, then dates in England, Germany and France, and a tour of the United States. In February 2008 they head eastward, stopping in Estonia on their way to the Hong Kong Arts Festival.
Founded in Oslo in 1997, Trio Mediaeval participated in the Hilliard Ensemble’s summer school. Hilliard tenor singer John Potter, later leader of the Dowland Project, was especially excited by their potential and brought the group to ECM. Subsequently “Words of the Angel” and “Soir, dit-elle” soared to the top of the Billboard and Amazon classical charts. “Stella Maris” released on ECM in 2005 juxtaposed 12th and 13th century music from England and France and a mass written for the trio by South Korean composer Sungji Hong.
Born in Gothenburg, Sweden, Anna Maria Friman studied with Thorbjørn Lindhjem at the Barratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo and with Linda Hirst at Trinity College of Music in London. In Europe Anna has given workshops in the U.K, Sweden, Latvia and Finland. Her work in the USA has included coaching and recording with the Girl Choristers of Washington National Cathedral. Anna’s solo engagements include performances with Gavin Bryars Ensemble, Red Byrd, The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir, NYYD Ensemble, Latvian Radio Choir, Collegium Vocale Gent and Ricercar Consort. Anna has been a jury member at the vocal ensemble competition at the Tampere International Choral Festival, Finland, since 2001.
Linn Andrea Fuglseth was born in Sandefjord, Norway. She completed her Higher Diploma in singing at the Norwegian Academy of Music in 1997, specializing in baroque interpretation, and writing a dissertation on Restoration Mad Songs. In 1994-95 she studied at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, receiving a diploma in Advanced Solo Studies in Early Music. She has studied singing with Marit Isene, Barbro Marklund, Emma Kirkby and Mary Nichols. Linn Andrea has been soloist with, amongst others, the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, The Norwegian Baroque Orchestra and The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir. In addition to singing, she conducts a children’s choir in Oslo and writes arrangements of Norwegian folksongs for the Trio.
Torunn Østrem Ossum was born in Namsos, Norway. She was educated at the College of Early Childhood Education in Oslo, specializing in music and drama. Torunn studied singing with Svein Bjørkøy at Rønningen County College in Oslo. She has wide experience as an ensemble singer and has performed with groups such as The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir, Nordic Voices, Con Spirito and Grex Vocalis conducted by Carl Høgset, where she also sings as a soloist. Torunn has been working as a vocal coach for the junior theatre group ‘Bærmuda mini’. Her experience working with children has been a great advantage for the trio’s work touring throughout Norway giving school concerts, engaged by the Norwegian Concert Institute.
Norwegian drummer and percussionist Birger Mistereggen, trained as a classical and jazz musician, is one of the foremost specialists in folk music percussion in his country.