Tuesday, 2 August 2016

RYDVALL/MJLEVA

CD Review

Vårdroppar


There is so much good fiddle music out there in the folk universe at the moment with musicians such as Seth Lakeman, Aly Bain, Phil Beer, Blazin Fiddles, Nancy Kerr and Alastair Savage, to name but a few, that listeners are spoiled for choice. So to stir the mix even more come two excellent exponents of the stringed instrument and what's more they come with a twist.

Erik Rydvall and Olav Luksengård Mjelva
Erik Rydvall and Olav Luksengård Mjelva, who is also involved in Sver and The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, play keyed harp fiddle and hardanger fiddle respectively and, as you can probably guess from their names, they come with a Scandinavian pedigree with Rydvall bringing Swedish traditions to the table and Mjelva Norwegian.
The duo may not be so well known further south but in their own part of the world, and much wider, they are highly respected and award-winning musicians.
Music produced by the two instruments is highly distinctive from the traditional fiddle and are not necessarily natural companions to each other, so it's no mean feat Rydvall and Mjelva have brought them together with such harmony and interesting compositions.
Opening with Akademikpolska which was composed by Eric Sahlström in the 1960s to mark an award given to him by King Gustav VI.
The music has real movement and although it's the polka style, you can almost see the land passing by either through the window of a train or horseback. It's hard not to get caught up in the Four Seasons-style pace of the piece. The two instruments seem to produce music beyond themselves giving a feel of there being more players than the duo.
Storebråten is an elegant piece which lends itself to flowing movements be it on the dance floor or just in interpretation. The way the pair weave the notes in and out of each other's instruments is fascinating to hear.
What follows is Polska efter Dahlfors which opens pizzicato giving the piece a sombre feel before it moves to a lighter cadence that somehow carries a middle eastern flavour in the notes.
Keyed harp fiddle
Langåkern has real antiquity to it with a more much broken sound than the previous offerings almost as if it was improvised by the two players. This is followed by Hjaltaren inspired by the Vikings and is the old Norse word for Shetland. The piece does have a depth of sound and the repeat comes over you like Ravel's Bolero. Even though there are no words, in the true folk tradition, Gro Gudmundsrud carries the story of emigration and the hardship it can bring. You feel the stages expressed in the playing from the lighter opening of the marriage to the darker events in Iowa and the subsequent tragedies. This gives way to Morfars Schottis a personal and light tune written by Rydvall for his grandfather and is one of those tunes onto which you can project your own emotions as the two instruments play out a fairly complex and enjoyable dance.
Nödåret is another tune which represents a folk staple as it tells the tale of a long harsh winter and failed crops, alluding to a year of famine in 1867/8. The sombre tones of the duo create a brooding and ominous atmosphere as the year progresses from deep frosts to blazing summer and eventually the failed harvest. The weather is also at the centre of Vårdroppar and the duo's string play capture perfectly the drama of the sunshine which becomes a storm but then returns to the sun. Rotnheims-Knut is in two parts, fusing the traditional style of the tune with its newer counterpart. The notes are bold and the pace kept strong throughout the two rounds.
What follows is another polksa this time Storpolskan, efter Byss-Calle this has the lightness of touch you would expect from a dance tune and the gentle use of the bow on occasion give it the feel of a hoedown.
The title character at the centre of Sølve Knut was a fishnet maker and fiddle player. The strong notes and complex harmonising of the two instruments give this piece real character perhaps to match that of the subject. Vals etter Tor Grimsgard is a lovely lilting piece that has a real light touch and humour about it and through their string play produces several strands of emotion.
Skinntrøya is a simple tale of men sitting drinking and playing fiddle when a young maiden walks in upon the throng and is immediately taken up for a dance. The tune again has that broken improvised feel about it which is part of the recognised style the duo employ to move the tale along.
The new album
The final track on the album is Våstermarnspolskan and inspired by a great tale in the folk tradition. The story goes that the fiddle player of the tale loved a farm girl but her father rejected him as a suitor not wanting a musician for a son-in-law, however, rather cruelly he was asked to play for his love's wedding and this doleful tune is the one he composed for the couple. It does have a real sorrow to it and the ending just slips gently into melancholy, creating a great end to really class album.
If you are not familiar with the keyed-harp or hardanger fiddles then this is a good album to get into them. The expertise of Rydvall and Mjelva bring out the best of the unusual vocabulary the instruments enjoy. The instruments have a distinct sound that is full of character and which is, of course, brought out by the duo's wonderful mastery of the fiddles.

Vårdroppar is available now through the duo's website.

Other links: http://folkall.blogspot.ie/2016/04/the-nordic-fiddlers-bloc.html
                    http://folkall.blogspot.ie/2015/08/sver.html
                    http://folkall.blogspot.ie/2015/01/blazin-fiddles.html
                    http://folkall.blogspot.ie/2016/07/alastair-savage.html
                    http://folkall.blogspot.ie/2014/11/phil-beer.html