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Private Label OJM010

It was, I suspect, always inevitable that Scottish harp virtuoso Catriona McKay (best known for her work with the band Fiddlers’ Bid) would one day team up with an exponent of the Swedish nyckelharpa, for the two instruments sound so very well together. The nyckelharpa’s first world champion, Olov Johansson, rose to the challenge a decade or so back by collaborating with Catriona, initially for live performances including 2007’s Celtic Connections, thence on an album (Foogy) which garnered very favourable reviews and doubtless instigated this timely follow-up, on which the musicians treat us to a further selection of tunes, a goodly majority of which are original compositions by one or other of the protagonists.

The playing is never less than invigorating and invariably also revealing unexpected additional textural subtleties (while often making the listener believe that more than two musicians are playing – although at least some part of this impression is due to the special simultaneously-sounding qualities of the mighty nyckelharpa, of which Olov plays four different varieties over the course of the disc). The compositions demonstrate a keen reciprocal grasp of the musicians’ respective indigenous traditions and a willingness to experiment within them, allied to a feel for a varied musical language and the possibilities of emotional temperature as conveyed through imaginative deployment of instrumental colour and dynamics.

From an extended, joyously animated strathspey-and-reel combination to the legendary “competition” on a pair of Swedish polskas down to the stately lilt of Rubin’s Lullaby and the lonesome, bleakly evocative January Lament, and from the cautiously joyful “turn” of Vändningen to the multi-faceted character study Splash (written for Olov’s wife): every item has its own delightful ambience, so it’s hard to grow tired of the tonal restrictions that an unrelieved diet of two instrumentalists might otherwise bring. And there’s also a playful quality to their music-making that stems in no small measure from their mutual respect and a musical bond that comes from that decade of performing together.

So, if the very sound of these two instruments enchants you, don’t hesitate to acquire this well-coordinated and attractive disc.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 98 of The Living Tradition magazine.