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Written in Folk Roots issue 173, 1997

Världens Väsen

Xource XOUCD 118 (1997)

Adam Xource

XOUCD 119 (1997)


Tongång AWCD 10 (1996)

A spin-off from Väsen’s involvement with pop band Nordman has been the addition to the trio of percussionist André Ferrari, who adds gutty emphasis to the already powerful dance-compelling polskoid skip-beat zing of Olov Johansson’s nyckelharpa, Mikael Marin’s viola and Roger Tallroth’s octave mandolin, bouzouki and, used like a deep cittern, 12-string guitar.
      This time all the tunes are written by band members, and they’re clear evidence of the life and energy of the tradition which shapes them and of which they’re part, which is strong enough to grab new influences and draw them to its heart. Each new Väsen album in turn becomes the best recorded place to first encounter the band (though a gig filled with swirling dancers is, as always, really the place); so Världens Väsen (“The Noise Of The World”) takes its place at the top of the pile.

      The nyckelharpa (oh, all right, the Swedish keyed fiddle) has a whole lot of strings, both bowed and resonating, and some of them are pretty low, meeting up naturally with the sound of viola and indeed cello, which, played by Mats Olofsson, makes a guest appearance on Världens Väsen. Cellist Annika Wijnbladh is one third of Trio Patrekatt; the other two thirds are Johan Hedin and Markus Svensson, two of Olov Johansson’s colleagues in the remarkable all-nyckelharpa Till Eric Group (which is dedicated to the man most responsible for kick-restarting the nyckelharpa tradition, Uppland’s Eric Sahlström). Their two nyckelharpas (sometimes one being Hedin’s very deep-sounding tenor version of the instrument) wrapped around Wijnbladh’s driven cello make a natural big sound, leaping and swinging, by turns interweaving and uniting into dense, silvery vibrant blocks.
      Here’s yet more evidence that the nyckelharpa is no delicate museum piece but is shaping and leading its own powerful tradition alongside those of the fiddle in Sweden, its capabilities, which have been considerably expanded by Sahlström and other makers and players, opening a whole range of possibilities for new music and for further work on traditional tunes, which latter make up about half of the material on Adam.

      The repertoire on L’agréable, which features Kersti Macklin’s nyckelharpa with a baroque ensemble including harpsichord and gut-strung, short-necked violins, viola and cellos, is neither traditional nor new; it comes from European composers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries including Georg Philipp Telemann, Michele Mascitti, Thomas Baltzar, Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf and Marin Marais. They didn’t write for nyckelharpa, but their instrumentation was flexible, and it integrates well into this music. In those days the membrane between western Europe’s classical and folk musics was fairly porous in places, so there are hints of melodic connections, but really this album, agréable as it is, sneaks into these pages because of its prominent featuring of skilful playing on an increasingly multi-faceted instrument whose widespread revival didn’t come from “period instrument” reconstructors but from a very few people in Uppland where, having been deserted elsewhere, it still had a traditional life.

© 1997 Andrew Cronshaw

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