(2L, 2002)

The young Norwegian group Majorstuen made this record in a church near Oslo in late 2002, and it sounds fine. The six members of this string ensemble make a kind of music that sits clearly on the border between classical and folk. Or, to put it another way, Sibelius meets the Barra MacNeils.

The clear production and the energetic playing are the outstanding features of this 15-instrumental effort. The music is delivered with a clean Nordic precision and without any discernable rhythm section, but rather, to quote the record company's blurb, the "polyphonic energetic monophony meets the polyphonic polytonal and rhythmically intricate melody." Whatever they say!

Effectively, its a string sextet that plays a brand of music all its own. The pieces show a wide range of influences, with "rett vest med eric ost" sounding like a high-speed barn dance and other songs reflecting classical or even Celtic influences (Quebec's La Bottine Souriante, for example). "Majorstu-x" opens the set with a side winding, off-kilter fiddle tune. "Busk" sounds like a Nordic take on an Irish fiddle tune.

Majorstuen is coolly creative and competent at delivering an interesting, if pain-free brand of folk. Not to be confused with a soul outfit, or an earthy folk group like Taraf de Haidouks, they deliver the goods without an excess of emotion. There's nothing hackneyed here, but at the same time it lacks the compelling qualities of great music. Great folk music takes more than pure technique. It comes out of toil, sorrow or happiness, a story to be told, or just the pure joy of playing. So, time will tell if Majorstuen can grow into a folk force or whether it is a one-album wonder.

All in all, then, a qualified success, but worth a listen for lovers of the fiddle/violin, Nordic-style.

Visit the artist's website (if you can read Norwegian -- the English site does not apppear to exist yet).

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 12 July 2003

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