In May of this year I reviewed Lanterne, the last album
would make as a band, or that was what the band told us anyway. Here’s a small quote out of the intro: ‘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!
Well, that wish came out sooner than I thought, Way sooner! ‘Cause here it is, the Finvarra reunion album and even better, it’s a Christmas record! And a surprising one at that as well, perfect for the Christmassy historical folk fan, but first things first. Let’s ask the band about those retirement plans: What happened?
Patrick Broekema picked up on that question:’ Hahaha, good question. At the beginning of this year, we announced that Finvarra would not do anything as a band in the foreseeable future. Originally, that was indeed the idea, but then this crazy year happened, and it inspired us to record Lutesongs for Christmas. We thought, in this year where we are not allowed to hug each other, let’s embrace our fans with some comforting Christmas music. About our future plans? Well, although we stopped planning new activities, we never officially split up as a band, so who knows what the future will bring. For now, we are keeping all options open.’
So here it is Lutesongs for Christmas. For me, Christmas stands for nostalgia, tradition, and warmth; some may even call me old fashioned but I’m fine with that. Every year I get out the stuffed Christmas animals; the straw angels; the old Christmas tree decorations and the German Christmas pyramid (left) Anna’s parents always set when she was young. I don’t even buy new Christmas decorations, I rather go into a second-hand store and search there, being totally happy to find a lovely glass-blown squirrel to hang in the tree. Add an old Christmas record to that and I am totally happy.
Luckily I am not the only one who thinks like that. Finvarra do as well. Just have a look at the instruments used on Lutesongs for Christmas: harpsichord; pump organ; recorder; violin; a music box; Baroque guitar, and of course -hence the title- a lot of instruments of the lute family: the theorbo; bouzouki; mandolin; the Arab ud and the lute itself, the list just oozes traditional music. and that is exactly what you are going to get. Traditional music…, with a twist.
Bells of the East starts simple enough, a nice windchill sound effect, sleighbells coming nearer from the distance, the gentle sound of glass beads hitting each other, and the calming sound of an oriental melody. Yes, I did say oriental! The mystical sound of the Arab ud and the theorbo take me deep into India. The oriental percussion by guest musician Sattar Al Saadi only enhances that feeling. The sleighbells returning at the very end of Bells of the East give me a slight sense of traveling through time and space. How wonderful. How unexpected. My imagination is running wild already.
The next song, I Saw Three Ships only increases that feeling of traveling. Originally a Christmas carol from the 17th century, especially popular in Cornwall, Finvarra recorded a highly danceable, light, almost fairy-like, instrumental version of it, made even lighter by adding a little ol’ jig Humours of Glendart in there.
Now I didn’t know about the origins of I Saw Three Ships, or Bells of the East the first times I listened to them, so the songs left me puzzled, intrigued, and wondering about the sense of it all. Why an oriental song on a Christmas album? The perfect moment for the third song to come: Wexford Carol.
This is the first ‘real’ Christmas song on this album. Traditionally it is an Irish Christmas Carol beautifully sung by Gwendolyn Snowdon (She easily is one of my favorite folk interpreters). There was one sentence in the lyrics that particularly struck me. It went: ‘In Bethlehem upon that morn‘. When I heard THAT sentence it suddenly occurred to me that, Christmas actually originated in the Middle East. In Israel. And if there were indeed three wise men from the east following a star, they must have come from Persia, India, or even a place beyond. All of a sudden those Oriental sounds made so much sense. It was at that point that I and this record clicked. This isn’t a ‘Rudolf-the-red-nosed-winterwonderland-have-a-lot-of-presents-in-the snow’ kind of CD. Finvarra set out to do something totally different.
The band always called themselves a Celtic & Oriental folk band, so it was only logical to have that Oriental touch returning on Lutesongs for Christmas. In the last two years Dieke Elfring and Patrick Broekema have studied Renaissance music and this felt like the perfect moment to use those beautiful instruments and play those old carols, rich in history and tradition.
For me, listening to Lutesongs for Christmas feels like traveling. Traveling back through time, traveling through cultures, traveling to lands far and wide. Just listen to IJswals, a lovely trip to medieval times, I can feel the lords and ladies slowly sliding through the great hall in a dance d’elegance’, celebrating the merry days of yule. Doesn’t it feel romantic?
Talking about those medieval times, Anna and me happened to watch a documentary on how Christmas was celebrated in Tudor times, The famous 12 days of Christmas. In that documentary, a choir performed the Coventry Carol. This carol is part of a mystery play traditionally performed in the 16th century in, indeed, Coventry. The carol itself refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, and takes the form of a lullaby sung by mothers of the doomed children. Finvarra’s version is beautiful. Dieke Elfring’s voice is perfect for carrying such a heavy-themed lullaby. One of the best songs on the album
Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris (between the ox and the grey donkey) is another old traditional, again taking us back to medieval times. In this case, it is a French Christmas Carol and talks about little baby Jesus being born between an ox and a donkey.
As Patrick explained at the start of this review, Finvarra wanted to give us a gift with this album, they wanted to embrace us with warm and romantic Christmas music. Did they do that? Totally! The beauty of Lutesongs for Christmas is that Finvarra took those old Christmas carols and made them contemporary, while in keeping with the tradition of them all. They all ooze out warmth, tenderness, and that romantic peacefulness I so love about Christmas. The oriental side of Finvara just blends in perfectly, Songs like Bells of the West or Bells of the East I feel connect those traditional Renaissance songs with us, the ‘Castlefest generation’. Bells of the West has a beautiful pagan folk feel to it, as if
and Faber Horbach
joined in for this celebration of Yule.
As I said, for me Lutesongs for Christmas sounds like I’m traveling through time, through music, and through history. As if Finvarra went through the mists of time and found us those special songs of solace played way back when, using it to give us a hug of warmth, and a blanket of tenderness in a time when we truly need that. And I love them for that.
editor: Anna Schürmann
cover art: Patrick Broekema
Picture: Cliff de Booy (1)