Global Village CD817
Bridal March by Hauk Buen is a set of 24 traditional tunes of the Telemark region of Norway played on the Hardanger fiddle (Hardangerfelen) by one of the most well-known performers on that instrument. The Buen family are notable not only as fiddle players but also as instrument makers and authors of collections of tunes and the Buen name features prominently in the folk music archives of Telemark. Perhaps Knut Buen has recorded more than Hauk but both are very active in the Norwegian traditional music scene and so, when Hauk Buen was in New York last year for a concert, it was a superb opportunity for producer Michael Schlesinger to make a recording of some classic Norwegian dance and concert tunes.
The short timespan available for the recording perhaps shows in the fact that this is an album without a grandiose project, besides the straightforward and creditable one of documenting the playing of a master folk musician. As such, it is a must-have for any player of the Hardanger fiddle and is unbeatable for anyone wanting to play the traditional music of Norway, especially if playing for dancing. There are no other instruments or musicians collaborating on the album; it is quite unaffected by the desire to 'arrange' and it presents undiluted and detailed Hardanger fiddle playing. It will provide copious homework for anyone who aspires to master the sometimes very complex and surprising rhythmic patterns of the music and, in particular, the style of ornamentation. So, there is no question of whether a specialist should buy this disc; they should, and they won't need this review to tell them so. But what do the Hardanger fiddle, the music of Norway and this recording offer to the non-specialist?
The Hardanger fiddle is unusual enough in the UK that a description of it is probably justified; it is to Norway as the hurdy-gurdy is to Centre-France or the bagpipes to Scotland; a national instrument, though most typical of western and central Norway. It dates back to 1650 or 1700 and is a violin with four melody strings which may be conventionally tuned (but frequently are not). The bridge and the fingerboard have less curvature than the violin and so double-stopping is facilitated and becomes a characteristic part of the music. The richness of the Hardangerfele is further enhanced by the four or five sympathetic strings that, as in the nyckelharpa or hurdy-gurdy, add extra emphasis to the tonality of the music. However, the most striking feature of the Hardanger fiddle is undoubtedly its appearance; tradition demands ornate and fantastic decoration of inlaid mother-of-pearl and black ink line drawings, frequently over the whole body of the instrument and even the fingerboard, in a style that has not been seen in Europe outside a museum since the 1700s. If you have ever seen one, you will have noticed it!
It is harder to sum up the music of instrument that its appearance. If one knows the flavour of Swedish music, the similarity is clear (it is after all less than a century since the two countries were at least politically one). However, the dances are different, though with the Halling in common, a dance which was always associated with the Hardangerfele and the mid-nineteenth century composer and master player Maliser-Knud. The principal dances on the present recording are the Springar (two time) and the Gangar (three time), with three 'listening' tunes concluding the album. There are many extraordinary and beautiful moments, once one has acclimatised to the microcosmic tone world of a drone instrument. For example, the fanfare-like title track, The Bridal March from Seljord, shows off the instrument in an uncharacteristically lively rhythm (the march hovers on the edge of a being a jig) and shows also the power of well-placed and strictly restrained vibrato. Against the drone of the lower strings, the melodies can be embellished with exotic trills and mordants that might otherwise disturb their flow and harmonic sense. Hauk Buen's playing shows this decoration to perfection; one can see clearly how the ornamentation works with the dance, maintaining the sense of movement to provide the dancers with the rhythmic clues they need. Altered tunings are also represented - from Saint-Saens and the Danse Macabre to the musicians of Telemark, it seems that modified fiddle tunings are a powerful metaphor for the supernatural. The listening tune The Kivle Maidens uses a Trollstemt (troll-tuned) fiddle to portray beautifully the disruption of Christian worship by the last pagans of Kivle. As usual, the Devil, or at least the trolls, have all the best tunes. This track is followed by The Rose, a deeply emotional but unsentimental tune by Lars Fykerud, the composer of several of the tunes on this recording. This is truly eerie and lovely in that way that is peculiar to Scandinavian music.
On the technical side, that fact that this was a recording made with severe time constraints has already been mentioned. The recording quality is however perfectly good; perhaps the occasional wolf note or off intonation might have been fixed with more takes, but there are certainly no defects so severe that one cannot live with the results. The two-second rule for the pauses between tracks was faithfully adhered to and this does seem a little strange; with so many tracks in the same tonality, a longer breathing space between them would help the listener to appreciate better the changes of mood and colour. Don't bother listening to the clips of the album on, for instance, www.cdnow.com - the compression badly misrepresents the recording quality.
Finally, it should be noted that the Hardanger fiddle had (and still has) a powerful influence on the classical music of Norway. Following a long correspondence with Knut Dahle, a player of the generation after Maliser-Knud, Edvard Grieg based his Peasant Dances, Op. 72, on the music of the Hardanger fiddle. The twentieth-century Norse primitivist composer and langeleik (Norwegian dulcimer) player Geirr Tveitt was likewise inspired by Hardanger fiddle music; an inhabitant of Hardanger himself and a great collector of traditional tunes, Tveitt composed the symphonic Hundrad Hardingtonar (A Hundred Hardanger Tunes) released recently by Naxos (8.555770) and even a concerto for the Hardanger fiddle, also released this month by Naxos, which presents the instrument for the first time in music that acknowledges but does not stop at national boundaries. Anyone interested in the Hauk Buen recording should certainly track down these two new recordings too, whilst anyone who has already discovered the Naxos recordings will understand them immeasurably better with the help of Hauk Buen.
Daniel Wolverson - 14.5.02
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