Album title: In Folk Style
Edvard Grieg: Holberg’s Suite Op.40 / Two Nordic Melodies Op.63
Emilia Amper: Abrégé – Folk Suite for nyckelharpa and String Orchestra
Gjermund Larsen: Diplom – Folk Suite for Fiddle and String Orchestra
Performers: Emilia Amper, nyckelharpa / Gjermund Larsen, fiddle / Geir Inge Lotsberg, leader / Øyvind Gimse, artistic director / The Trondheim Soloists
Label: 2L 2L-068-SABD
Playing time: 57’34"
Recorded: Sep 2009

Whenever an upcoming musician or ensemble is being introduced, one likes to hear about their collaborations with well-established world-renowned performers to substantiate credibility. That’s why names like Maisky, Andsnes, Mørk and Mutter are frequently quoted as testimonials for The Trondheim Soloists.

Initially formed in 1988 by Professor Bjarne Fiskum as a students’ string ensemble of the Trondheim Music Conservatory, the young chamber orchestra has toured Europe with Mutter twice in 1999 and 2007 and also made two joint recordings (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Bach’s Violin Concertos) on the DGG label. However, it should be stressed that even without foreign aid, The Trondheim Soloists are stupendous achievers in their own right. As early as 1992, their Grieg String Quartets were singled out with the prestigious Diapason d’Or award. The internationally acclaimed 2006 Mozart Concertos [2L 038-SACD] featuring Trondheim-born violinist Marianne Thorsen won the best classical CD in the national Norwegian Music Awards. The more recent Divertimenti [2L-050-SABD] released as the world’s first commercial music-only Blu-ray disc was recognized by Gramophone Editor’s Choice and three Grammy Awards nominations.

The latest pleasant surprise from The Trondheim Soloists journeys back to the roots of thoroughbred Norwegian musical tradition yet it’s recorded in the latest digital technology of DXD 24/352.8kHz high-resolution masters and formatted in Blu-ray/SACD/CD double discs. Coupled with an unorthodox 360° surround 5.7/7.1 microphone setup—violas and double bass front left, celli front right, first violins rear left and second violin rear right—the musical and sonic experience is utterly sensational. For the 2.0 masses, the down-mixed stereo playback is vividly compelling.

Grieg was one nationalistic composer who had a natural affinity for Nordic musical vernacular. His Holberg Suite Op. 40 and Two Nordic Melodies Op. 63 have added a down-to-earth and unpolished folk rawness to the long list of evergreen repertoire for string ensembles. If you think The Trondheim Soloists have captured that Nordic rustic spirit just right, you’re absolutely correct. Between ensemble leader and artistic director Geir Inge Lotsberg and Øyvind Gimse, they have nurtured a special string sound that is high-res in textural details, high contrast in hues, high reflex in moods yet deeply involved in emotions. Indeed each time I spin one of their discs, I am immediately spurred for a highly efficacious dose of musical engagement. But be prepared for a different kind of sound that follows because the next two works are contemporary compositions modeled on genuine folk melodies and performed with folk instruments.

1981-born Emilia Amper plays a nyckelharpa. It is a Medieval fiddle featuring a chromatic keyboard and resonating strings in chromatic scales. It is held at waist level and played with a bow shorter than the violin's. Amper organized and noted down in sheet music folk melodies that have been passed down from fiddler to fiddler in the 19/20th centuries. When Johannes Rusten, a Trondheim Soloists violinist, heard some of these works, he couldn’t resist the temptation of orchestrating five of them into the Folk Suite "Abrégé" (meaning summary). The five titles are descriptive enough to imply some sort of programmatic backdrop. "Arepolska", "Balkanpolkan" and "Bambodansarna" are various types of country dances with various geographical origins. "Kapten (Captain) Kapsyl" portrays a sea-faring ballad. "Till farmer (Grandmother)" is a nostalgic comforting funeral song.

Fiddler Gjermund Larsen too was born in 1981. He composed the Suite Diploma especially for his performance diploma at the Norwegian Academy of Music and premiered the work in 2008. The three movements are quite eclectic in style. The first, "Trad", is a country dance in a straight traditional spirit. The second, "Abelvær" seems to set the mood in a primitive jungle. The double-bass pizzicatos and second violin bow tappings are like tribal drums and wood percussion. What is Abelvær then? Only 2L label chief Morten Lindberg could solve the riddle. It’s a small village on a small island off the coast of Norway. The final movement "Krambupolka" is a fusion of jazz and humoresque with a touch of Shostakovich/Schnittke satire. It’s a highly entertaining piece that audiophiles would love to show off. Kremerata Baltica have met their match.