Folk music is the centre of Sinikka Langeland’s work, but the Norwegian singer and kantele player takes the freedom to redefine “folk” with each of her successive projects. A distinctly non-traditional traditionalist, her ECM debut, “Starflowers” (2007), featured settings of the verse of lumberjack poet Hans Børli powerfully embellished by the in-the-moment arrangements of a cast of jazz improvisers including Trygve Seim, Arve Henriksen and Anders Jormin.
“Maria’s Song” finds Langeland in the company of two distinguished classical musicians, and on a mission to restore Marian texts to sacred music, weaving folk melodies in between the timeless strains of Johann Sebastian Bach, and drawing on the Gospel of St Luke for her images of the Holy Mother.
As Sinikka says in the liner notes: “Religious folk songs are among the most distinctive elements of Norwegian folk music, but the Virgin Mary is only represented with a few variants of the hymn ‘Maria hun er Jomfru ren’ (Mary is a virgin pure). The reason for this is obvious: she was ‘reformed’ away in 1537 along with a large number of beautiful church paintings and sculptures, and anyone who persisted in worshipping her risked harsh punishment. But the myth of the virgin Mary lives on in the Norwegian folk tradition in the form of nicknames for flowers and in the legends that are recounted in folksongs and sagas.”
On earlier recordings, “Stjerneklang” (Grappa, 2002), “Påsketona” (Nordic Sound, 2004), and “Kyriekoral” (Nordic Sound, 2005), Sinikka presented Christmas, Easter and Pentecostal hymns in Norwegian folk music settings, alongside Johann Sebastian Bach’s organ variations of the same hymns. “The idea of improvising on the shared melody in the Bach pieces, first arose when I was working on the Christmas hymns. Kåre Nordstoga partnered her on “Påsketona” and “Kyriekoral”, which like the present disc were recorded in Trondheim’s Nidaros cathedral, world-famed for its rare Baroque organ, built by Johann Joachim Wagner in 1738.
Lars Anders Tomter brings another beautiful instrument into play, his Gasparo de Salò viola from 1590. Between viola and organ, Sinikkka’s kantele, the 15 string Finnish table harp, instrument of the Northern bards, finds its space. “When we played our way through time”, says Sinnika, “the Nidaros Cathedral reflected the spiritual currents of a thousand years.”