Posted on Jul 18th 2011 01:39 am
NILS ØKLAND / SIGBJØRN APELAND
Lysøen – Hommage A Ole Bull
ECM Records 2011
16 Tracks. 61mins56secs
Violinist and Hardanger fiddle player Nils Økland and pianist and harmonium player Sigbjørn Apeland join forces to pay tribute to nineteenth century Norwegian violinist and composer Ole Bull, who, in his time, was one of the country’s most highly regarded musicians. While his work has led him to be accompanied by some of Europe’s greatests, including Franz Liszt who considered him a genius, Bull found most of his inspiration in his country’s folklore and borrowed a number of traditional themes to incorporate in his compositions. He was also a keen and talented improviser. In 1872, Bull acquired a small island off the west coast of Norway, Lysøen, where he had a house built on designed by architect Conrad Fredrik von der Lippe. Over a hundred years later, the house was donated to Norway by his granddaughter and has since been the scene for many concerts. Økland and Apeland were however the first musicians to record in the house, and both were given access to some of Bull’s instruments, Apeland using his harmonium and Økland his violin, dating back to 1734.
Rather than simply presenting their own interpretations of Bull’s compositions, Økland and Apeland opted for a more elaborate selection, including some of Bull’s work alongside music inspired by his environment and his influence, as well as a handful of traditional themes and a composition by Edvard Grieg, who saw in Bull one of his strongest influences. Both Økland and Apeland have often found inspiration in Norway’s folk music in their own work, and their involvement in this project is a testament of their strong attachment to their country and its folklore and history. Here, they focus primarily on the more meditative side of Bull’s work, channelling some of the inspiration Bull found in the Norwegian landscapes and geography.
There is a feeling of great unity through this record, whether it is with the actual music itself, and its delicate brushes and motifs, or with the relationship between the two musicians and their sensitive approach to the project. Right from opening piece Stusle Sundagskvelden, Økland and Apeland create beautiful fragile music, bringing to life melodies which feel at once ancestral and fresh. While Økland is perhaps in a natural leading position here, Apeland occasionally steps up, for instance providing the bulk of the melody on Belg Og Slag, which Økland splinters with short and sharp staccato, or on I Rosenlund Under Sagas Hall / La Folia, Tjødn or the second interpretation of Sylkje-Per, where the piano becomes the primary instrument.
But, while Økland operates alone on Solstraum, seeking unearthly sounds from his instrument and revealing a ghostly side to it, the strength of this album relies on the two musicians working together in complete harmony to bring some of these themes to life in particularly vibrant way. This is especially the case with the intricate flourishes of Grålysning or Eg Ser Deg Utfor Gluggjen, the swirling melody of Ole Bull-Vals or the emotional touches the pair apply on La Mélancolie, I Rosenlund…, Jeg Har Så Lun En Hytte or Grieg’s Solveigs Sang. In fact, despite the reflective nature of the majority of these compositions, this album displays quite a wide array of moods and tones, all brought in with extreme delicacy by the pair to create an extremely coherent overall piece.
With Lysøen, Nils Økland and Sigbjørn Apeland have created a totally fascinating record, steeped in Norwegian tradition, but, more than a simple homage to one of the most highly regarding Norwegian composers, this album is a vibrant homage to Norway itself and to its rich folk tradition.