The Strad issue
A rare exploration of one of Norway’s more esoteric folk fiddle traditions
Tron Steffen Westberg (fiddle)
As the booklet notes explain, ‘gammelpols’ is the most highly prized form of the ‘pols’ folk dance of the Røros district of central Norway. Already, then, we find ourselves in quite a niche – especially as Tron Steffen Westberg chooses no fewer than 26 examples of the sub-mini-genre on this disc – some recorded here for the first time.
This feels like privileged access to a little-known music – and the muffled, heartbeat-like percussion (uncredited on the disc) that prevails underneath the fiddle sets up a mysterious, disorienting rhythm. Above this, Westberg’s unfailingly legato, circling phrases, peppered with double-stopping, create an enfolding wall of sound. Perhaps the mix lacks a little of the immediacy that would really ram home the ‘wildness and power’ of the dances that he seeks to convey, but the intensity and quality of his playing cannot be faulted.
Westberg’s commitment to this music means that the repertoire is admirably undiluted. But this also means that, at least to non-connoisseurs of the ‘gammelpols’, this album feels a little monotonous, each song sharing a very similar texture and tempo. If, as he acknowledges, this is music to be danced to, then a CD recording loses some of its impact – although it’s beautiful and rare all the same.