Trio Mediæval formed in Oslo in 1997 and tonight we see Berit Opheim, who has appeared with the ensemble since 2010, join the two original members, founder Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Anna Maria Friman.
Bristol’s St George’s is the perfect venue for this music but appearing in beautiful surroundings is nothing new to the trio, having sung in Oslo Concert Hall, Vienna Konzerthaus, and New York’s Carnegie Hall amongst many others. We knew as soon as we saw this appear on the bill that we wanted to review it; their repertoire is a mix of English, Italian and French sacred monophonic and polyphonic medieval music and traditional Scandinavian ballads – for a couple of music lovers with a folk leaning and a relatively recently acquired love of all things Nordic-Noir it was a shoe-in!
The trio are collaborators, the list of people they have worked with is almost endless; notably for this reviewer they’ve worked with ‘Terje Isungset’ and ’Bang on a Can All-Stars’. Tonight though they appear with Arve Henriksen, a musician they’ve worked with since 2007; they’ve toured the UK together and I believe they played here at St George’s in 2012? Arve is described as ‘probably Norway’s most versatile musician of his generation’ and, having previously heard his work with Terje Isungset, I knew it would fit beautifully together.
The stage is unadorned, just four vocal mikes, a mike for Arve’s instruments, a squeezebox of some kind or other (research needed here!) and, in the middle distance, a Hardanger Fiddle. The musicians enter in total silence, and stand in silence, for what seems an uncomfortably long time. Waiting for total quiet from the audience I guess, I’m feeling for those poor ‘coughers’ because we’ve all been there.
All four are dressed in dark shades, but tonight isn’t about Nordic-Noir in any shape or form, rather a celebration of the sounds and music that the Norse vikings may have heard when they arrived in Iceland; chants, folk songs, religious hymns and fiddle tunes.
Linn, Berit, Anna & Arve alternate the lead, the others fading into the rear of the stage when not involved in a song. I’m never entirely sure where we are in the track list, if indeed the sheet we were handed on our way in is the track list, or if it is deviated from, it really doesn’t matter.
The songs themselves sometimes seem to blend together and, although we do get breaks to show our appreciation of the immaculate voices, I feel the audience is nervous of applauding at times in case we interrupt a song, and indeed we do get it spectacularly wrong at one point.
I think Arve gets the biggest round of applause of the night after a song that includes some kind of throat singing, or Yoik, or Sygyt? Whatever it was it is a track I will be looking out for when the album, Rimur (ECM Records), is released this month. It could well be that the applause was more enthusiastic as Arve made sure we all took part, conducting our efforts despite singing and playing constantly, and notably, playing a percussive role on the trumpet that had us and other audience members discussing during the break just how he made those sounds. So we had Arve with several trumpets and pipes and strange percussion thing, Linn playing that squeezebox and Anna on Hardanger Fiddle – but tonight was definitely about the voices.
It was another spectacular night of music at St George’s, one I think it would be impossible to have witnessed and not be moved in some way. I would definitely recommend checking out Rimur when it is released.
To see what else is coming up at St George’s Bristol, see their website