Tag Archives: trio mediaeval

MTH-V: Trio Mediæval’s “Gjendine’s Lullaby”

Regular readers should be at least passively familiar with Trio Mediæval. I’ve mentioned them in a few posts, as well as writing a “New Listen” on their most recent album, A Worcester Ladymass. Their informed, artful renditions of Medieval, traditional, and contemporary works – both sacred and secular – are irresistible. Couple that with their partnership with ECM, far and away my favorite record label (as also frequently mentioned here), and you have a consistent recipe for success.

This week’s video is of a performance “Gjendine’s Lullaby” from 2007’s Folk Songs, the first album of theirs I purchased. I was hooked upon first listen – enough to acquire all of their albums over the next year. Subtitled “Ballads, Hymns and Lullabies,” the album description is: “Traditional songs from Norway arranged for voices and percussion.” This particular song is an arrangement of a traditional lullaby that was, as mentioned in the liner notes, “written down by Edvard Grieg after Kaia Gjendine Slaalien, Jotunheimen.”

Trio Mediæval:
Anna Maria Friman
Linn Andrea Fuglseth
Torunn Østrem Ossum
w. Birger Mistereggen, percussion

Text (translation by Andrew Smith):
The child is laid in its cradle, sometimes crying, sometimes smiling.
The child is laid in its cradle, sometimes crying, sometimes smiling
Sleep, now sleep in Jesus’ name; Jesus, watch over this child.
Sleep, now sleep in Jesus’ name; Jesus, watch over this child
Mother lifts me to her lap, dances with me to and fro.
Mother lifts me to her lap, dances with me to and fro
Dance then, dance with your children, dance, and your child will dance.
Dance then, dance with your children, dance, and your child will dance.

New Listen: Trio Mediaeval’s ‘A Worcester Ladymass’










Artist: Trio Mediaeval
Album: A Worcester Ladymass (2011)

Unlike most of this category’s posts, this new listen was also recently released (March 26). Since blindly purchasing Folk Songs over a year ago, I’ve become quite a fan of Norway’s Trio Mediaeval. Separately, Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth, and Torunn Østrem Ossum have gentle, splendid voices. Together, they sublimely ebb and flow with a blend only achieved by longtime collaboration.

A Worcester Ladymass is the reconstruction – with the help of musicologist Nicky Losseff – of a Mass to the Virgin Mary for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. This reconstruction is based on fragments collected from Worcester, England’s Abbey of St. Mary’s. The music’s texture ranges from strict monophony (with/out drone) to complex polyphony (for Medieval music). One additional interesting feature of this reconstruction is the inclusion of two works composed specifically for this recording. Two sections of the mass, “Credo” – a biggie – and “Benedicamus Domino,” were missing from original sources and fulfilled by British composer Gavin Bryars. (On an unrelated note, his The Green Ray for alto saxophone and orchestra is quite good – thank you, John Harle.)

This album may not necessarily be for the Medieval purist. (In case you’re wondering, yes, those exist. And they’re quite passionate.) After all, this is a reconstruction based on centuries-old surviving fragments. Also, in lieu of the recitations (i.e., readings) that would have been part of this particular mass, relevant motets, etc. from the Worcester Fragments codex are included. Finally, Bryars’s contributions are not period-specific. They’re stylistically complementary overall, however the harmonies and counterpoint do stray. Given that his two pieces are structurally significant – the “Credo” is the second-longest piece, and the disc closes with “Benedicamus Domino” – the listener can is somewhat pulled out of that thirteenth-century mindset. (Furthermore, the “Credo” is preceded by a monophonic selection.) Anachronistic? Yes. Jarring? Arguable. Unpleasant? Absolutely not. They pull it off here.

As with my review of Rolf Lislevand’s Diminuito, I welcome the contemporary interpretation. As much as many academics insist, we don’t actually know how Medieval music sounded in practice. We have strong ideas and descriptions, but no auditory evidence. There are so many aspects to Medieval and Renaissance performance practice that it’s impossible to attain 100% bulletproof accuracy. When academically- and historically-informed performers take reasoned artistic license, I welcome it. The blend of both Medieval textures and temporally disparate styles make this album both 1) an intriguing reconstruction and 2) a wonderful tour through all things Medieval mass-oriented (Ordinary, Proper, motets, monophony, polyphony, contemporary approaches, etc.). And to top it all off, the singing is world-class! (But, if you’re at all familiar with Trio Mediaeval, you already knew that.) Another spectacular effort.

If you’re new to Medieval music and you’re looking for an academic introduction, this probably isn’t the best place to start. However, if you’re already familiar with Medieval sacred music and you’re looking to breathe new life into your interest, look no further.

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New Listen: Rolf Lislevand’s ‘Diminuito’

Artist: Rolf Lislevand
Album: Diminuito (2009)

Reinforcing the aforementioned eclectic nature of this series, this week’s selection comes from the Italian Renaissance.  Actually, it’s a quite modern taken on music written during the Renaissance.  Here, Rolf Lislevand, a leading Baroque and Renaissance lutenist, leads an ensemble of early music performance specialists through stirring renditions on centuries-old music.  (I emphasize “performance specialists,” as there’s often a distinct difference between performers and researchers in academia – a topic I’ll likely return to in the near future.)  As with Manu Katché’s Third Round, this was a completely blind purchase, having known neither the main performer nor any of the pieces – only the style.  While many early music recordings can be hit or miss, I considered this worth the chance for two reasons:

1. It’s part of ECM New Series, the classical branch of ECM.
2. It includes vocalists Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Anna Maria Friman, two-thirds of Trio Mediaeval. I blindly purchased their Folk Songsa collection of Medieval Scandinavian songs – this past spring and thoroughly enjoy it.

The instrumentation varies throughout, with particular feature on plucked strings.  It includes lutes (many, many lutes), nyckelharpa, clavichord, organ, percussion, voice, vihuela de mano, triple harp, and more.  Not every instrument is used for every number; this helps keep the ensemble sounding fresh for the album’s entirety.  As mentioned above, much of the music comes from the Italian Renaissance, specifically the Veneto region (north).  In listening to the recording and reading the liner notes (written by Lislevand himself, and directed toward a more musicologically-informed reader, perhaps unintentionally), it’s quickly evident that all involved are very historically informed.  They interpret the music not only as well-rehearsed performers but they also offer a musicological rigor.  (This goes beyond simply using an urtext edition!)

Furthermore, what maintain the listener’s interest are not only the technical or the intellectual aspects, but the visceral.  This album is FUN!  For those familiar with Renaissance music, you likely know that many texts discuss the music’s – often fun – role in court life.  However it’s often hard to sense much fun when listening to it.  (Rigid interpretations of transcriptions and/or arrangements are often the weapon of choice.)  Diminuito, on the other hand, helps Renaissance music live up to the hype.  The ensemble, under Lislevand’s leadership, take liberties and focus heavily on improvisation, something often discussed academically but forgotten in “practice” (i.e., historical reconstruction).  Much like jazz standards, the pieces are often given some variation of the “head-solo-head” treatment.  Also, Lislevand takes liberties with the compositions, often combining multiple pieces to create new arrangements.  My personal favorites, and those that perhaps best exemplify Lislevand’s approach, are “Petit Jacquet/Quinta Pars” and the whirlwind “La Perra Mora.”  Simply close your eyes and you’ll feel like you’re at a soirée with the local nobility!  (500 years ago, that is.)

Breathing fresh air into centuries-old music, Lislevand & Co. prove that Renaissance music was lively and full of spirit.  Most of all, they prove it is still relevant!

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