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Written in fRoots issue 361, July 2013

Trollfågeln – The Magic Bird

BIS Records BIS-2013 SACD (2012)

Emilia Amper, already nyckelharpa World Champion in 2010, was named “Musician of the Year” in Sweden’s annual Folk and World Music Gala awards in April, and as her CD unfolds it’s easy to see why.
     Perhaps it’s the result of being able to listen to themselves recorded, but lately there seems to be quite a trend among Nordic and Baltic folk-rooted players of bowed instruments toward exploring and relishing the range of sounds their instruments can make rather than just getting on with using them to knock out the tunes. Rather as on the first track of Estonian violinist-singer Maarja Nuut’s Soolo CD, Emilia opens her CD with a long-held single note, whose texture changes as different harmonics are excited by the bow and ring into the resonating strings, and her voice slides in among them; she dedicates the track to Finnish accordionist Maria Kalaniemi, a prime proponent of close listening and focus on the sound.
     The sounds and instrumentation widen, from the next track’s lively, almost Bach-like solo playing of a polska, through her own and traditional tunes and songs. She has gathered a choice team: Anders Löfberg, Dan Svensson, Olle Linder, Helge Andreas Norbakken variously on cello, guitar and percussion, Johan Hedin (whom she describes as “a major source of my musical inspiration”) on second nyckelharpa making an even more Bach-like effect in a pair of Småland slängpolskas, and, for the album’s five beautiful, rich-textured and masterly string arrangements (her own), a string quintet from Trondheim.
     The music is finely contrapuntal, worthy of classical respect but with all the gusto and lift of folk music. On tracks involving the strings and Norbakken’s percussion, particularly Galatea Creek, it develops quite a big, orchestral sort of sound, but doesn’t become thin when the nyckelharpa goes back to solo; it’s an instrument with a range from violin down to cello, whose sound is made all the richer and more satisfyingly complete by its sympathetic strings, and she knows how to get the best out of it.
Amper is a nyckelharpa master, fine singer, composer and arranger, with an explorer’s vision, and this is a luminous album.


© 2013 Andrew Cronshaw

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