There is nothing purer than the voice of Aino Peltomaa over a pipe drone. It’s as traditional and heartfelt as you can get and drills down into the intense humanity of these largely ancient works, as reinterpreted by the members of Finland’s Ensemble Gamut!
The debut album from this group of early music aficionados, UT, arrived in the last month of 2020 and easily made it into my end of year top 10. Here we are two years later and almost to the day the follow-up arrived, RE, continuing the scheme of naming albums from notes in the Medieval music system, this one also corresponding with the second note of the later ‘do, re, mi’ scheme. For this album the Ensemble has been stripped down to a trio, losing the harpsichord component.
The pieces used as the basis for RE come from ancient manuscripts written in the Finnish Medieval period and during the melting pots of Swedish and Russian rule, between the 13th and 16th Centuries. The influence of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Karelian rune singing are strong as inspiration comes from historical sources, but it is presented via reinterpretation, infusing electronic soundscapes into the use of traditional instrumentation.
The album is immediately striking as the purity of Aino Peltomaa’s marvellous voice, as alluded to at the start of this review, shines upon the haunting and tranquil beauty of Sanctus Ericus / Sanctum Ericum; simple in construction but delivered with true heart, as would no doubt have been the case originally, and most likely in the face of deep sadness. That pathos oozes through, and despite not understanding the words, the underlying sentiment blazes like a beacon.
The tone changes with Veri, the language moving from Latin to the Finnish of rune song with a darker turn in the more strident delivery of rapper Paleface, his own words based on the original text in a powerful guest role. The mix of traditional music, largely from Finland but taking in other religious and secular sources, conveys the sound of a frozen land in winter, and Aino has done a wonderful job with the production. This is an album that comes straight from the heart and shimmers with emotion.
Drone pipes feature frequently in a sound coloured by the likes of harp, soittu (a Finnish shepherd flute), jouhikkos (a bowed lyre) and blockflutes. The acoustic sounds are the stars and the mix of styles from prayer to secular dance – and many stops in between – keep things moving in a compelling swirl. It is a cleansing listen with many highlights, if you immerse yourself it rewards your attention. Groups of pieces are sometimes brought together in a compendium of changing sounds; sometimes it is the clarity of the stripped-back arrangements that makes it work, as it oscillates between quiet and resounding. The voices are often the focal points, but it might also be hammered strings or a lonely flute, as in Paimenen säveliä: Suru with hints of wind, water and birdsong in the background. The whispered words of Psallat scholarum concio / Neity Maria Emonen – Mariatar / Beatus vir emerge like a magical spell under a rich tune with layers of underpinning from strings and flutes, engaging and uplifting with a slightly mystical edge.
There’s an earthy quality to much of the music, a counterbalance to the more spiritual side, as in Luojan virsi, while there’s an almost Celtic sense to O scholares voce pares. The vocals are frequently haunting, as in the only original piece in the set, Puu, Aino’s beautiful tones mixed with those of the other Ensemble members, Ilkka Heinonen and Juho Myllylä, to give an often ethereal feel. Some pieces are joyful while others are much more sombre; as an overview of some of the music available within these ancient texts, it’s quite breathtaking.
Finally, Personent Hodie (Lapsed caicki laolacatt) (“Let All the Children Sing”) gives a 17th Century Finnish translation of a popular and more familiar piece (it also featured on the recent Mediaeval Baebes album, MydWynter) to end RE in fine style as the Ensemble “invite everyone to rejoice in birth and life!”
Over the years I’ve grown to be uplifted more and more by the spirit of ancient music, finding refuge in the wood and wire of traditional instruments and heartfelt presentation. It sings through the ages and speaks of the resilience of the human condition.
The setting here is a calming soundscape with so much space. The instruments come together and then fall away, Aino’s beguiling voice the siren song touchstone that seals the deal. Refreshing, fulfilling and cleansing, it’s a fantastic listen that draws you into another world, an older and harder world but one filled with a purity of spirit that now feels lost.
01. Sanctus Ericus / Sanctum Ericum (4:01)
02. Veri (3:49)
03. Gaude, cetus fidelium / In vernali tempore / Gaude, cetus fidelium / Runosävelmä Suistamosta (6:17)
04. Paimenen säveliä: Suru (1:38)
05. Psallat scholarum concio / Neity Maria Emonen – Mariatar / Beatus vir (6:36)
06. Luojan virsi (5:25)
07. Trina caeli hierarchia (8:30)
08. Impenitens malicie (2:50)
09. Piispa Henrikin surmavirsi (5:36)
10. Birretum patris (1:28)
11. O scholares voce pares (3:37)
12. Puu (6:01)
13. Cum lucri magnitudine / Perfecte desiderium sui / Pre clari patris sanctitas doctrinam (5:14)
14. Lapsed caicki laolacatt (Personent Hodie) (1:58)
Total Time – 63:00
Aino Peltomaa – Voice, Harp, Percussion, Soittu (Finnish Shepherd Flute)
Ilkka Heinonen – Jouhikkos (Finnish/Karelian/Estonian Bowed Lyres), Electronics, Voice, Percussion
Juho Myllylä – Blockflutes, Electronics, Voice
Paleface – Vocals (track 2)
Record Label: Eclipse Music
Country of Origin: Finland
Date of Release: 2nd December 2022