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Finvarra – Lanterne (2020) review

cover Finvarra-Lanterne

Always quit while you’re ahead! Well, the Dutch folk band Finvarra took this old saying literally, announcing that the band would stop playing together in the very same message in which they talked about the release of their latest mini-CD. That is one way to get my attention. In the words of the band:
“- We are and will remain good friends but in the last two years we all went our own (musical) ways and we are happy with that. We had a very nice time with the band and are proud of all we have achieved, the great concerts we gave, all the nice people we’ve met and of the two CD’s we have released. We would like to thank the bookers who put their faith in us and made concerts possible on the most adventurous locations. And of course we thank the photographers who captured these concerts so we could share them with the world. Last but not least, we would very much like to thank YOU, our loyal fans, for your support, love, and for dancing to our off-count songs 😉. Here’s to friendship and music!!”
So Lanterne is not only Finvarra latest CD, no it is also the last album the band will make together. And yes just as you, I secretly – as secret as you can be writing it out right here- hope there will be a reunion somewhere in the future. Listening to the quality of music on the record, I am left craving for more. A lot more!

But let me introduce the band first. Finvarra are the Dutch musicians Dieke Elfring (vocals, bodhrán, percussion); Gwendolyn Snowdon (vocals, Indian harmonium, bouzouki); Patrick Broekema (guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, low whistle, backing vocals); Corné van Woerdekom (violin, backing vocals, percussion) and Evert Willemstijn (double bass). Their origins go way back to 2010 when Dieke and Corne, both studying at Leiden University, met Patrick and Gwendolyn at folk sessions held every two weeks in Cafe the Tregter in Leiden at the time. (Sessions that owner Marius van der Ploeg kept organizing until 2017 when he finally retired after 25 years.) The four band members found each other in their love of Celtic folk, but from the very start were not afraid to incorporate new styles and instruments.
You could say the band was an instant hit in the folk scene, playing on the Folk Battle finals and at the Midwinter Fair both in 2011, only a year after their first official band picture was published. Followed by Summer Darkness in 2012 and 2013, the Gothic & Fantasy Fair in Rijswijk 2013 (now known as the Fantasy Fest) , Keltfest and Elfia, Arcen in 2014 and to top it all off their first Castlefest in 2015!

In 2013 Finvarra released their first album, simply called Finvarra, filled with eleven lovely European folk songs. European, because the band combined well known Celtic folk traditionals like The Well Below The Valley and The Cliffs Of Moher, with more Balkan influenced songs like The Wind That Shakes The Barley or Jovano Jovanke/Ciuleanda, and even their own interpretation of that famous Led Zeppelin song: The Battle Of Evermore.
In 2017 the band announced they would be back in the studio, and then it went rather quiet around Finvarra. A silence that was suddenly broken early this year with the message I quoted above, announcing both the birth of the new album and the end of Finvarra as a band.

Lanterne starts as a warm blanket. The first song Banks of The Edisto is a touching ballad, featuring not only Dieke’s warm, slightly jazzy vocals, but also Patrick’s pleasant guitar and Corné’s lovely violin solos. The original is by the American folk singer-songwriter Dayna Kurtz, recorded on her 2006 album Another Black Feather…For The Wings Of A Sinner. (An album well worth listening to if you love American folk music, with touches of jazz, Americana, and the occasional influences of raw 60’s protest songs, but I digress.) Dayna Kurtz recorded Banks Of The Edisto as a ‘small’ banjo and vocal ballad, Finvarra made it sound much richer, more orchestral and gave the song a real Celtic folk feel. Both, I have to say, are lovely versions.

With Finvarra’s Song, we keep that strong Celtic orchestral feel. Finvarra, together with Alain Labrie (also known for his flamenco band Labryénco), who recorded and produced the album, really managed to give Lanterne an overall wonderful and rich sound, very cleverly working with stereo effects and delicate touches of musical decorations at unexpected places to achieve that. Gwendolyn’s powerful welsh folk voice cuts right through all this richness, creating a wonderful contrast within the song that makes it even more powerful. Listening carefully I can’t help spotting the slightly Spanish sounding acoustic guitar chords, some Mediterranean flavours crawling in or the clear Eastern European violin solos spicing up this Celtic folk song. Something that clearly continues on the instrumental A Bruxa/Flatbush Waltz. The guitar and violin melodies lead my mind to a place somewhere between northern France and Andalusia. On a warm evening under a star-filled sky.

This is actually the main difference between this record and Finvarra’s first album. On the first CD, the different influences were clearly divided over single songs Some sounding Celtic, some French, and some clearly eastern orientated. On Finvarra’s latest record all those influences have gelled together into one single sound, making Lanterne sound much more coherent. Another difference is the lead role Dieke took as a singer. Besides Banks Of The Edisto she also sings the lead on the Spanish sounding True Unfaithful Love and the absolutely beautiful ballad Motherland, a true gemstone in my opinion. Easily one of my favourite songs on Lanterne. Dieke’s low, warm and jazzy voice works SO well with the European folk style Finvarra is now playing. listening to this I can’t help but hope that somewhere in the future Finvarra will come together one more time, either to play live for us all or even to record new music. The way the musicians fit together in these songs is pure magic.

The instrumental Whiskey & Ouzo tells it all actually. On Lanterne Finvarra successfully blends the Celtic world with the Mediterranean, giving true meaning to the term European folk.
I have nothing more to say really, this is a must-have album for all who love folk music. It is as simple as that. Still hesitating? Put on the title song Lanterne and let Gwendolyn win you over herself. Another wonderful song on a wonderful record of a wonderful band.
It is so sad to see them go, but I am so happy they leave us while they are ahead. Best giving away present I have had in a loooooong time.

– Cliff

editor:
– Anna Schürmann
pictures:
Eline spek, early band picture (2010)
Duane Teske, official band photo (2013)
– Finvarra studio picture
– Finvarra

The Power of the Harp

Myrkur - Folkesange (2020)
New month, new monthly marker!

MYRKUR – HARPENS KRAFT (2020)

Many songs tell us about the magical beauty of harp play and the powers a skilled player can wield under the right circumstances. Previously I was captured myself by Kati Rán‘s Harpa Toner which upon investigation turned out to be one of many renditions of the same tale that has been travelling throughout Europe, shapeshifting and scope-creeping, evolving in time to well-known versions like Binnorie, The Twa Sisters, The Bonnie Swans and Harp of Death. Now, once more I am mesmerized by a harp-related song (or should I say ‘sange’? ) and this time as well, I simply had to know what was behind the softly sang lyrics brought across by the tempting voice of none other than Amalie Bruun, a.k.a Myrkur.
Though mostly known for her Metal albums, Amalie has been diving deeper and deeper into the richness of Scandinavian traditional songs and clearly she came up with some pure Danish gold. As early as January of 2018, some of you may have been lucky enough to witness performances of Myrkur having struck new ground, touring together with other great artists of our scene, like Christopher Juul ( Heilung, Euzen ) and… you guessed it: Kati Rán. Fortunately her collaboration with Christopher did not end when the tour did. In fact, she stepped into his famous Lava Studios and recently proudly released her latest album Folkesange.

This work of art is a 100% match with our station’s format, which means we will be able to play each individual track and what’s more: we have chosen Harpens Kraft as our new Monthly Marker, meaning we will be playing it 5 to 6 times a day for the month of May!



And this brings me back to the story: Harpens Kraft dates as far back as (at least) 1570 and is a ballade about Villemann and Magnhild. Whilst playing a game, the bride is clearly distraught and Villemann inquires about the reasons for her distress, offering up several possibilities, which all are refuted by Magnhild. Instead, she reveals a premonition that she will fall (to her death) into the river Blide, like her two sisters did before her. Although the lyrics of Harpens Kraft end here, the story does not. Despite Villemann’s reassurances promising her the protection of many of his men and the building of a very strong stone bridge, she is not comforted and as it turns out, rightfully so. When Magnhild crosses the bridge, her horse rears up on its hind legs and she falls off into the river. The moment Villemann hears of this, is where Myrkur picks up lamenting in the song Villemann og Magnhild, the Norwegian part of this tale, which is also part of the repertoire of bands like (amongst others) SKÁLD and Datura:



After her fierce Kulning singing, Amalie continues to tell how Villemann took his golden harp to enchant the troll that was holding Magnhild, by draining the power from his arm with his harp play. As is often the case with Nordic tales, the (here unsung) ending isn’t a happy one, as she doesn’t come back to life, but he can at least provide a proper burial.

Epilogue:
The story of this tale actually doesn’t end here and so, I will finish with the beginning. In the variations that could be heard in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, the troll was the villain, yet in Iceland there was none but fate itself. Something happened halfway on the Norwegian Sea and clues can be found exactly there: on the Shetland Islands, where in Unst the Scandinavian versions where predated by a very similar song from the 14th century:



This song has a happier ending, the Celtic influences are clearly recognizable in the character of the Elven King and the clue to the last part of this trip, lies in the naming of the hero of it all: Villemann is called King (or Sir) Orfeo. This is where my wonderings went full circle for me: Orfeo was one of the first Balfolk bands I danced to, back when the scene was just sprouting in the Netherlands and it was the personal CD collection of Erica, the flutist of that very band, that laid the foundation for CeltCast’s musical arsenal not much later.

But wait! There’s even more to this story:
Let me offer you the chance to go even further back in time and have a listen to AmmA‘s King Orfeo, a rendition of the late 13th century version of the Westminster-Middlesex area. This version was introduced via Breton poets in Medieval times and it contains a mixture of Celtic mythology, such as the faeries, the Greek myth of Orpheus.



Yes, you read that correctly: this tale brings you all the way back to Greek mythology, when in 438 B.C. Euripides wrote the first known version of this love story of Orpheus and Eurydice in his Alcestis. And that to me is the true power of the harp: this instrument once again welcomed me to travel far beyond the confinement of my home and through 25 centuries to show how we are all connected, supported by the tales that travel through time, preferably put to beautiful music.

– Alex



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About us

Alex Hi, I'm Alex. I am delighted to say that I am a co-founder of CeltCast. Starting this station has been a dream come true! ... read more
Arjan I'm Arjan. I'm proud to say that I'm a co-founder of CeltCast. Music was my first love, and it will be my last. Music of the future and ... read more