Live: West Cork Chamber Music Festival: Trio Mediaeval
Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth, Torunn Østrem Ossum (sopranos), Arve Henriksen (trumpet)
St Brendan’s Church, Bantry, Co. Cork
1 July 2009
I got spectacularly lost on the long drive down to Bantry. Having missed one of the crucial-but-invisible turn-offs, I found myself travelling through the back roads of County Tipperary. These narrow, twisting, grass-adorned lanes are an obstacle course, each curve obscured. A virescent wash, every stretch of hedgerows is in soft focus alike, yet infinitely varied in detail. At every moment, alert to the unexpected herd of cattle, gliding Land Rover or dead end, the gear stick in perpetual motion. This is thrilling driving, I think, as I lower the windows to a waft of silage: alert, unpredicable, consistent, real.
Trio Mediæval’s performance later that night was analogous, and equally joyous. Almost continuous from start to finish, medieval, Norwegian, contemporary and improvised musics were grafted into one. Happily, there was no programme or spoken introduction; with the limited faculty of my own ears, then, these elements were difficult to tell apart, sometimes only marked out by the language in which they were sung – Norwegian, Latin or no actual words being the variations. It didn’t matter: the correspondence of these music’s was exposed – separated by time and space, but joined in essence.
There is a modal language common to all these musical strands and, even in improvisation, it is the modal vertebrae which keeps things focused, providing a necessary path from which to deviate. And deviate they must: their intonation and delivery is uncompromisingly crisp, to the point of being characterless. They are masters of establishing and then piercing this surface in both subtle and brutal ways: the faintest ornament or a shriek from the blue; the most minute hand gesture, or spacious choreography. But their greatest dramatic device in this programme was the trumpter Arve Henriksen, who joined them for much of the concert.
Henriksen is by far the most rebellious of the group, and where the women create stability, he delights in the breaking of it. The trumpet is for him a liminal point between singing and breathing – and he often did both, with his powerful, improvised vocal solo at one point being a persuasive call to prayer. When he actually did play the trumpet, however, the effect was as a faint, shadowing, fourth voice, often indiscernible from the three sopranos. At his most effective, Henriksen was playing in unison with one of the voices, with sudden, furtive ossias – establishing regularity and then shattering it.