(Drone, 2000)

When one is at the mall in Hometown, U.S.A., any time between Thanksgiving and New Year's, it's easy to forget that there is Christmas music other than the overdone chestnuts that are painfully familiar to every American. ApelgrΠis devoted to the music of Swedish Christmas traditions, and it is a welcome respite from Christmas as usual.

The liner notes for this CD are extremely detailed, though those who don't read Swedish will have to make do with terse overviews in English or French. Students of folklore will want to get a Swedish dictionary and translate as best they can because there is a goldmine of information here. For each track, there is information about the place it came from, its source and its context, not to mention lyrics. There are many folkways associated with Christmas in Sweden, from strictly religious music to more secular begging processions, parties and plays; some of these are rooted in pagan traditions. The Swedish Christmas season starts at winter solstice and continues well into the new year, and each sort of music or festivity has its own time and context.

The Yuletide music on this disc ranges from ballads to stjŠrnspel (miracle play) songs. As a result there is a great variety of moods, depending on the music's purpose. The "Stephen's songs," which accompanied begging processions, are often rollicking, while some of the stjŠrnspel pieces are rather solemn. There are also seasonal dances like polskas and minuets. Most pieces are fairly short, so there are 25 tracks on this disc, adding up to almost 70 minutes of music. This is a generous length, but one gets the sense this is only the tip of the iceberg of this kind of material.

Much of the music is very old, which fits in with SŒskŠra's other projects -- their specialty is southern Swedish music from the Middle Ages through the 19th century. ApelgrŒ is right in that vein, and this album will appeal both to those interested in folk music and those who like classical, especially early classical music. The crumhorn, drones and other archaic instruments hearken back to the Middle Ages; the oldest-sounding piece is the Latin text "Ecce Novum." The other songs are in Swedish; most pieces are vocal but there are a few instrumentals as well. The members of SŒgskŠra are singer Ulrika Gunnarsson, multi-instrumentalist and singer Marie LŠnne-Persson, fiddlers Sven Kihlstršm and Anders Svensson and multi-instrumentalist Magnus Gustafsson. Jšrgen Axelsson guests on organ and vocals.

ApelgrΠis good value -- good folklore and good music. Forget the mall and enjoy an older, noncommercial Christmas with this album. God jul!

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 28 December 2002