This one came straight out of nowhere and immediately captured my heart. More exceptional beauty from Scandinavia, it’s Finland this time where Ensemble Gamut! offer breathtaking reinterpretations of Finnish folk and early music with a modern sheen. Expansive soundscapes driven by acoustic instruments and filled with the wonder of the natural world, as fresh as a dip in a frozen lake, sounds of the sea and birdlife mixing with drone and flavours of the Medieval and Renaissance, subtle electronics offering new textures.
The first thing that strikes you is the startling beauty and purity of Aino Peltomaa’s soprano voice, taking its lead from Gregorian chant, Hildegard von Bingen and traditional folk. It emerges from an eclectic mix of instrumentation, archaic but also innovative, echo adding a mysterious edge. The strings of traditional music specialist Ilkka Heinonen’s Jouhikko (a Finnish bowed lyre) and G-violone (a double bass viol) pick out a textured backdrop, Juho Myllylä’s woodwinds and electronics adding melodic touches, the pair forming a hypnotic drone in the first track, a blending of Martin Codax’s Ondas do Mare and the traditional Finnish folk song Rannalla Itkijä, with Marianna Henriksson’s harpsichord taking in delicate accents and runs.
There is so much space. The instruments coming together and then falling away, Aino’s voice alone, brittle and beguiling with the subtle reverb, then Ilkka, finally fading on a subtle swirl of electronics. That was quite something, but Aino’s solo introduction to the next track is just astonishing, eventually joined by the others in a mournful yet upbeat song.
Selected from traditional sources, such as the Kanteletar collection of Finnish poetry and Galician Cantigas, among the anonymous ancient composers several known names appear; the aforementioned 13th Century Galician Martin Codax, the sprightly dance of 14th Century Italian Francesco Landini’s Questa Fanciull’ Amor and late-15th Century Franco-Flemish Johannes Ockeghem, whose L’autre d’antan is given a loping stride with striking slides and pops from the strings. That all might sound a bit heavy, but the results are anything but, light and airy, floating with the ease of Aino’s astonishing voice and the wonderful arrangements as they search for new ways of interpreting this ancient material.
The album’s title, UT, according to Aino, refers to “being outside or without something or someone”. Additionally, ‘ut’ is the first note of the medieval music system (‘ut’, ‘re’, ‘mi’, ‘fa’, ‘so’, ‘la’), later replaced by the ‘do’ more familiar to Sound of Music and Simpsons fans.
Aino Peltomaa has “chosen beautiful and touching melodies and texts for the album from medieval manuscripts. We have then combined them with Finnish folk tunes which present the themes of the same unattainable love and passion, sadness, longing and death.” The mix of traditional sounds with ancient dance and devotional music, delivered with such love and attention to detail, is a heady brew. Refreshing, soothing, intriguing and enlightening, there’s a wonderful flow through the album in an enthralling and cleansing journey, Celtic and North African tones seeming to be drawn in here and there. An unusual feature is Myllylä’s use of Paetzold contrabass blockflute, which gives different textures that contrast beautifully with the voice and stringed instruments.
I’ve always been able to find refuge in the wood and wire of traditional music, the heartfelt sounds of the human condition interpreted by skilled hands through hand-crafted instruments, and this is simply a magnificent example of what that can achieve. I look forward to one day being able experience Ensemble Gamut! in person, hopefully in a resonating ancient space that can do their music full justice.
01. Ondas do Mare (Martin Codax) / Rannalla Itkijä (trad. Finnish) (7:02)
02. Hae pois vain sormukses (trad. Finnish) (2:01)
03. L’autre d’antan (Johannes Ockeghem) (3:48)
04. De milde lomb (Anonymous) (4:02)
05. Mia Irmana Fremosa (Martin Codax) / Kylä vuotti uutta kuuta (trad. Finnish) (5:22)
06. Questa Fanciull’ Amor (Francesco Landini) (3:13)
07. Per Tropo Fede (Anonymous) (2:54)
08. Ben Lo Sa Dio (Anonymous) (3:56)
09. Como Póden Per Sas Culpas (Cantiga no. 166) / Uni Tullee / (trad. Estonian) / Armahan kulku (Kanteletar) (7:03)
10. Triste Suis De Vostre Langheur (Anonymous) (1:47)
11. Hyvää iltaa kultasein (trad. Finnish) (1:53)
Total Time – 43:01
Aino Peltomaa – Voice, Harp, Percussion
Ilkka Heinonen – Jouhikko, Alto Jouhikko, Tenor Gamba, G-violone
Juho Myllylä – Recorders, Blockflutes, Electronics
Marianna Henriksson – Harpsichord
Record Label: Eclipse Music
Country of Origin: Finland
Date of Release: 4th December 2020