Sunday 25 January 2015

Trio Mediaeval’s new disc from ECM Records of works ranging from 14th century Icelandic to contemporary is a joy from beginning to end

The vocal ensemble Trio Mediaeval was founded by Linn Andrea Fuglseth in Oslo in 1997. For sixteen years, Trio Mediaeval members were Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Torunn Østrem Ossum until Torunn left the group in 2013 to be replaced by Berit Opheim who had been singing with the ensemble regularly since 2010.

The trio's core repertoire features sacred monophonic and polyphonic medieval music from England, Italy and France, contemporary works written for the ensemble, as well as traditional Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic ballads and songs, mostly arranged by the group members. During the last eight years, the trio has developed exciting collaborations with both individual musicians, as well as larger ensembles and orchestras.

Trio Mediæval has performed throughout Europe in a variety of venues: churches, cathedrals, monasteries, farms, clubs, industrial spaces, museums as well as prestigious halls such as Oslo Concert Hall, Bozar in Brussels, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, London's Wigmore Hall and the Vienna Konzerthaus. The trio has embarked on multiple North American tours and has performed in Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Trio Mediæval's first CD on ECM Records, Words of the Angel, immediately reached Billboard's Top 10 Bestseller list and was made the Stereophile Recording of the Month in April 2002. Further releases on ECM followed in 2004 with Soir, Dit-Elle and in 2005 with Stella Maris. In 2006, the trio started a long-term collaboration with the Norwegian percussionist Birger Mistereggen, and the recording of Norwegian ballads and songs, Folk Songs, was released in the Autumn of 2007. Folk Songs was nominated for the Norwegian Spellemannprisen and for a US Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance the following year. Their next recording, A Worcester Ladymass (2011), like the previous releases, hit the Billboard's Top 10 list and was selected by the German Record Critic's Award as one of the best new releases in the Early Music category.

The trio has collaborated with a multitude of contemporary composers and has been involved in a number of collaborative projects with Norwegian jazz/improvisation musicians.  The Trio were Artists in Residence at the Bergen Festival in 2007 and, in May 2012, toured the UK with seven concerts. 

Trio Mediaeval’s latest release from ECM Records brings together polyphony from the medieval to the modern. Entitled Aquilonis after the North Wind of that name, the repertoire travels from Iceland to Italy, from north to south, like the Aquilonis wind.

ECM New Series 2416

There are contemporary works by the Swede, Anders Jormin; American, William Brooks and Englishman, Andrew Smith; realisations of Icelandic chant from the Middle Ages, as well as arrangements of 12th-century Italian sacred pieces and 15th-century English carols.

We go to 14th century Iceland for the arrangement by the Trio Mediaeval of the Vespers reponsory from the Office of St. Thorlak with these three fine voices bringing a plainchant opening before adding lovely harmonies with drone quality that is reminiscent of some Russian orthodox chant. This is a very finely done piece. 

Contemporary harmonies permeate the lovely Ama by Swedish composer Anders Jormin beautifully sung, with each voice revealing its own superbly accurate fine tone. This Trio bring a lovely flow to Ave rex angelorum a 15th century English carol that really soars. 15th century England also provides the carol Ecce quod natura mutat sua jura with a lovely ebb and flow in this finely judged performance, beautifully paced.

There is a most affecting setting of Ave maris stella, finely phrased and sung with such textural beauty before we return to 14th century Iceland with the Vespers antiphon and Psalm I,II,III from the Office of St. Thorlak in another arrangement by this Trio. Voices are held over a melody sung by a solo voice before the Trio sing antiphonally in a most strikingly lovely setting, full of lovely textures and decorations. Later a deep organ pedal appears accompanying the solo voice to which all join with two voices singing their own individual accompaniment, a terrific moment with a lovely weaving of voices.

A soprano voice opens Ioseph fili David, lovely and pure, to which the others join in this plaintive piece before weaving some lovely harmonies.  There is a setting of Ave regina caelorum by the English composer Andrew Smith providing some exquisite harmonies, rising to high notes, brilliantly sung.

15th century England provides the carol Alleluia: A newë work to which these singers move seamlessly in a setting that is full of gusto with singing of great energy whilst never losing their beautiful tone.

Two members of Trio Mediaeval, Anna.M.Friman and Linn.A.Fuglseth provide the wordless Morgonljos which opens with the organ setting; the melody from which the voices emerge as the organ maintains a drone. A very effective piece

There is more from the 14th century Icelandic Office of St. Thorlak with the Vespers antiphon and psalm IV, V arranged again by Trio Mediaeval. A fine melody runs through this piece with a recitative style passage finely done before returning to the flowing melody with a lovely blending of voices.

Trio members Anna.M.Friman and Linn.A.Fuglseth have arranged the 12th century Italian Laude, Fammi cantar l’amor giving some fine moments, with a wonderful blending of voices. Gud unde oss her at leve så is a melody after Ola Vanberg, a Norwegian text of unknown origin arranged by Trio member Berit Opheim. A solo voice brings a melody reminiscent of Arab music as it weaves ahead with very fine decorations from the soloist.

12th century Italy is the source for the Laude Benedicti e llaudati arranged by Anna.M.Friman and Linn.A.Fuglseth and to which Trio Mediaeval bring more of their lovely drone effect over which one voice provides the main tune before coming together. Quite lovely.

The voices of Trio Mediaeval open with delicate organ accompaniment in their own piece Klokkeljom rising up ecstatically. A brief work but beautiful. The Office of St. Thorlak from 14th century Iceland provides the Special antiphon in which an organ note sounds, over which a pure, lovely voice brings the melody, so subtly done.

The traditional Ingen vinner frem til den evige ro opens with the distinctive sound of the Hardanger fiddle bringing a melancholy melody full of lovely textures. A single soprano voice joins, with the fiddle maintaining a steady drone. Centrally the fiddle alone provides a variation on the melody before the whole trio enter over the fiddle achieving a richer blend as the soprano soars over the others in this distinctive piece.

Fryd dig, du Kristi brud is also a traditional song to which Trio Mediaeval bring their fine sonorities in the most exquisite, accurate singing, with folksy inflections, rather Celtic in feel. The Hardanger fiddle returns to open Berit Opheim and Anna M.Friman’s I hamrinum before a high pure voice enters blending perfectly with the fiddle with some terrific decorations in the coda.

Finally we have William Brooks, Vale, dulcis amice, an exquisite, melancholy piece that brings the most lovely harmonies from these three fine singers that make up the Trio Mediaeval.

This new disc is a joy from beginning to end. These fine singers are beautifully recorded in a suitable acoustic.

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