July/August 1997 Issue
Sven Nyhus: "Traditional Norwegian Fiddle Music"
by Bob Borcherding
With his foot strongly tapping out rhythm, Sven Nyhus has given us an outstanding recording of Norwegian fiddle music. These rhythms will not be familiar to the typical American listener, for they are centuries old, with varying, subtle beats, flowing melodies, haunting harmonies, as well as unusual scales. The types of tunes played on this recording are too extensive to list here, but be assured that they are interesting and unusual.
Sven Nyhus performs selections on both flat fiddle (violin) and hardanger fiddle. Though fiddle-like, the hardanger is more ancient in appearance and construction, featuring sympathetic drone strings. These drone strings, along with its unusual tuning and musical techniques, give it a mesmerizing, meandering sound--one that makes me wonder if there can be only one person playing. Though 15 of the 19 selections on this recording are played on the flat fiddle, with four on the hardanger, Sven has such technique that the difference between the two instruments is muted.
The tunes on this recording are nearly all modal in scale (the term "key" generally doesn't apply). To Americanized ears this may sound depressing, but yet this recording contains joy and energy of a different language. The musicianship on this recording is spectacular, and, as the liner notes state: "Sven Nyhus is without a doubt the best known exponent of eastern Norwegian folk music today."
Available where Shanachie recordings are sold.