Selections by Benedicte Maurseth
Review by Chris Nickson
"Fykerud's Farvel Til Amerika"
It’s been 25 years since a compilation called Meisterspel assembled the work of the some the 20th century’s great Norse fiddlers. The problem? Every one of them was male. Celebrated hardanger fiddle player Benedicte Maurseth has put together this response – Systerspel – a pair of CDs with all women featured. Maurseth chose the tracks and wrote the book for which this is the soundtrack, but there’s not a note of hers on here.
It chronicles a century, beginning in 1919 with Kristiane Lund’s “Fykerud’s Farvel Til Amerika,” one of the very first pieces of music ever recorded in Norway, from a time when people had relatives who’d left to make lives in the New World. Evocative, sad yet hopeful, it crackles but remains full of life.
There are recordings from the 1950s and 1960s, like Brita Eldegard Nesje’s “Jørnvrenja” (1956) or Jenny Grønli Farestveit’s “Voggleken Etter Anders Haugen,” but what’s interesting is that the majority of tracks here are from the last 30 years, most from this millenium. Yet while women are more widely represented now, and the quality of each generation’s playing improves with more education, the beauty of the work was as strong then as it is now. Both fiddle and Hardanger fiddle are here, and the sympathetic drone strings do add a resonance and depth to the music. That is apparent on the long meditation of Helga Myhr’s “Gløymer Dag Og Stund.” Born in 1995, she’s one of a new generation that has emerged as talented composers and instrumentalists.
Some names will be familiar to those who listen to Nordic music. People like Ragnhild Furebotten, Mari Eggen, Susanne Lundeng, and one who was the very much international face of Norwegian fiddle music for many years, in part thanks to her work with David Lindley and Henry Kaiser on the Sweet Sunny North album (curiously, another compilation album): Annbjørg Lien, who’s represented here by “Myllargutens bruremarsj” from her 1994 album, Felefeber.
"Huldreslått Fra Vang"
It’s an impressive collection, both for the concept and the music. Interestingly, Maurseth includes one notable outlier. Sarah-Jane Summers, born in Scotland, is a longtime resident of Norway, and the track “Huldreslått Fra Vang” (from her 2018 album Solo) shows how perfectly she fits, a Norwegian by everything but birth.
It’s a fascinating and long-overdue look at things, a rebalancing that also highlights the quality and invention of female Norwegian fiddlers.