Bagpipe Paintings: Album Reviews

Falsobordone: Fikon, fiddlor och finlir

Were I to not have even listened to it, I would say that Falsobordone's 2003 release Fikon, fiddlor och finlir (Figs, Fiddles and Fine Play) was the best-produced early music album I have ever seen. The quality of the design and the concept behind the album is fresh and exciting, especially for a package containing music which was conceived of over 700 years ago. But I did listen to the CD and found that the music contained within had the same care of production, same intense planning (as far as the overall project goes) and was equally fresh and exciting. So what is the concept behind Figs, Fiddles and Fine Play? Well, if you haven't guessed from the title, it's an album dedicated to the tradition of the medieval dinner party as depicted in illuminated manuscripts and church paintings for many hundreds of years. This album is all about food and music, two of my favorite pass-times.

Erik Ask-Upmark and Anna Rynefors are the driving force behind Falsobordone, accompanied by a group of 5 highly accomplished guest musicians. Upmark and Rynefors both play the bagpipes among their many other instruments of the medieval period. The piping on this album, while splitting the bill with the other instruments, is extremely accomplished and is worth the price of admission alone. When combined with the Hurdy Gurdy playing of Anders Adin and Goran Hallmarken, their effortless and rhythmic trompettes, they bridge the gap between the Breton French music of today with the centuries old melodies of Spain, Italy and France, the main difference between the two being the polyrhythmic melodies of the selections from the Cantigas de Santa Maria collected by King Alfonso in the 13th c.

In a non-piping related side note, track 4 stands out to me as interesting to pipers in a different way. The main instrument is a portative organ. I'll admit, I've not heard one before, it's not an instrument that gets a lot of attention but is often seen in medieval religious images, usually held by an angel and the sound that Upmark gets from his organetto is just that... from the angels. It is a very soft track, accompanied only by a tamborello but its sound is ethereal and pensive and a surprising highlight on this album.
On track 7 the pipes are used in a way similar to the way Seven Nations used to use them back when Seven Nations was a Celtic influenced band. The pipes play a rousing introduction to a song by Guillame de Machaut (I must also admit I thought I'd never hear Machaut on bagpipes) and later playing the same part on the bridges. The end of this track is unadulterated piping though, very ornamented and beautifully played.

This brings me to track number 10, by far my favorite track and some of the best piping I've heard on any solo album. The tune is Questa Fanciulla Amor and was composed by Francesco Landini in the 14th c. The tune is included with this review thanks to Erik Ask-Upmark, we hope Mr. Landini doesn't mind. This track capitalizes on the extended range that most bagpipes in G enjoy but many are afraid to implement. The tune trots along at a regular pace and subliminally you can hear the melody alluding to the higher register, you hear it going there, you hear the pipes go there, and just when the pipes have reached their peak and the listener is sure that the only place to go is down, the pipes rise once again with no sacrifice in tuning or tone and the effect is amazing. The only other person I've heard be able to pull that off is Jon Swayne. I hope that your luck with the tune is equally as good.

The last three tracks on the album all feature the bagpipes playing selections from the Cantigas de Santa Maria (nos 106, 155 and 331). After a nicely played "Prijon Forte" in a very rubato style, Upmark begins "Tan Beeyta" using a stop drone technique, which is very effective and again does not sacrifice tone or intonation. It's a technique, which I've heard once before although in a very different way. Some Scottish smallpipers will stop up one or two drones before they play using only one drone through the first half of a set and then, quick as anything, let up all pressure and restart the entire set adding in the new drone. Upmark instead uses this technique to split up the phrases and add emphasis to the melody being played. My only complaint about this one is that the tune is too short! I wanted to hear more of it. Falsobordone must have known that people would feel this way however because the last track of the tune, "En a Que Deus" brings it back in accompanied by the fine Hurdy Gurdy playing of Goran Hallmarken.

The album comes with a small booklet which, among containing credits and English translations of this Swedish production, contains a small booklet which has 5 recipes within, suggested dishes to serve while listening to this album. It's an instant dinner party. The reconstructed recipes are the work of Memento, an archeological duo who teams up with Falsobordone each year arranging medieval banquets. The recipes for French figs cooked in wine and imperial fritters go amazingly well with the music of Guillaume de Machaut and selections from the Cantigas de Santa Maria.

My impression of some early music recordings is that the treatment of the music is as dusty as the manuscripts they were obtained from. In Falsobordone's case, this is the exact opposite. This is a well-made album both in its design, concept, recording and playing. This is not another album of French, English or Scottish dance music, it's medieval music at its best, it is the precursor to all and this is an album you want in your collection. It's also a great resource for tunes and offers an alternative to that which is becoming commonplace.

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