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«Wolf Rune»
ECM 2674CD

Wolves, Finnskogen, Svullrya, Rune songs, kantele and Sinikka Langeland make up a close unity, physically, spiritually, musically. Langeland has been diving into the pagan sources of Christian spirituality and mysticism since long. These forces are so tangibly to experience in the wide and dense Finnskogen forests, an area where she herself lives in the small place Svullrya. Finnskogen, spreading from Kongsvinger, 100 km northeast of Oslo, to Swedish province Värmland, has been settled by poor Finnish migrants in the 16th century due to the grace of the then ruling Swedish king. The kantele box zither or psaltery is an ancient key instrument of Finnish, Karelian and Baltic folk music. Rune songs are an important part of the Skogfinns’ cultural heritage. ‘Rune’ stands for invoking and conjuring up magic in ancient times in Scandinavia, so rune songs were performed in that mode and situations. Langeland is a rare stroke of luck of having thoroughly investigated these ancient sources and at the same time she is equipped with a divine voice and great talent to perform nature’s deeper musical reflections and musical incantations. Those gifts enabled her to develop these sources to new heights, and into new perspectives in the past twenty years as documented on a series of fabulous albums.

Having seen her in a great live concert at Berlin Jazzfest two years ago with a phantastic line-up at Berlin Kaiser Wilhelm Memory Church (Maja Ratkje, Eivind Lønning, Trygve Seim, Mats Eilertsen, Markku Ounaskari), I was surprised that she now comes up with a solo recording. Listening to the music it quickly becomes clear what drove her and what she accomplished by it. She was now responsible for the whole creational and performance experience herself and thereby committed to developing and using the full unified potential of her voice and her instrument. «Wolf Runes» is a marvel of spirited musical fireworks coming from a deeper ground. It turns out as a pure masterpiece in all relevant respects.

It is full of sophisticated orchestral sounds emerging from just one deep cutting and sparkling instrument, two dedicated hands and an extraordinary musical soul.

That carries a strong singing voice expressing secrets of living nature. Langeland thus opened up still more magnificent orchestral colors and dimensions of her instrument. Her singing is deep, natural and exceptional strong with a wonderful timing and phrasing. What she does on the three kanteles here – she uses a 39-string, a 15-string and a 5-string kantele – plucking, strumming and bowing, is exceptional rich and it is an exhilarating to experience. The sound quality of the kantele is extraordinarily fine-tuned: crystal clear, shining and wonderfully confluent in space. The 39-string kantele has an amazing tonal range (almost equal to a piano) with an impressively deeply vibrating bass register. It allows Langeland to enter into a rich variety of song lines. The five-string kantele is a challenge at the opposite pole. Pieces as «Kantele Prayer» are manifestations of a direct (e)motional force sparked by this reduction exerting strong impetus, also as counterpoint to the full instrumental fireworks. The album’s 12 pieces have an amazingly broad range of sound metamorphoses mirroring characteristics of pedal steel guitar, kanun, koto, slide guitar, guzheng, harp and prepared piano! I guess also Langeland’s former training as a pianist and guitarists has seeped through to her present work. She provided her music by such deep and solid grounds through the years that after having reached such clear contours, the making of this solo recording was a mere natural consequence.

«Row My Ocean» on a poem of Jon Fosse has a brilliant structure as well as beguiling dynamics. The alternation of singing in high and low register is stirring and moving. «The Eye of the Blue Whale» is a masterful example of how much Langeland is able to achieve with very few tones. «When I Was The Forest» with lyrics after Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) makes the breathing of the forest audibly palpable. You can almost feel the drafting air. In «Winter Rune» many of the aforementioned characteristics come together in a still intensified way ranging from the deep silence of a wintry landscape to the muttering of trees, the grunts and chirps of hidden animals both sparking a grand groove. In a majestic finale her voice rises to Björk-dimensions but always solidly anchored, never losing ground. «I see your light» is wonderful balladeering and «Wolf Rune» with lyrics of Poul Pedersen Øieren (1808) sang in Finnish and Norwegian, captivates through its continued surfacing and disappearing ostinatos. ‘Wolf’ stands for wildlife, for the non-domesticated part of nature. Yes, you can hear the wolves sing in the Finnskogen, especially in the winter. And not only the wolves as I know from a visit there time ago. «Wolf Runes» is an expression of a deep inner personal bond to wild nature and a highly sophisticated up-to-date musical re-creation and re-shaping of ancient sources in rich orchestral dimensions making our souls sing.

Henning Bolte

Sinikka Langeland (kantele, voice)

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