Edinburgh Tradfest, 2015

Jim Gilchrist · 8 May, 2015 · The Scotsman

It was Olov Johansson, nyckelharpa player with the superbly accomplished Swedish trio Väsen, who suggested that by the end of the evening we’d be “thoroughly polskanised”, referring to the distinctive polska tunes which form the bedrock of their repertoire. He needn’t have worried, as he, viola player Mikael Marin and guitarist Roger Tallroth delivered a masterly performance that was warmly enhanced by the intimacy of its TradFest/Edinburgh Folk Club setting.

Väsen · Pleasance, Edinburgh

The Swedes were supported by brief, but nicely complementary, sets by the home-grown Celtic Nyckelharpa Project, a trio led by Gavin Pennycook playing Scots and Irish repertoire on the distinctive Swedish keyed fiddle.

With near-telepathic levels of interaction honed by 26 years on the road, Väsen generate a wonderful melling of timbres, with Tallroth’s 12-string guitar cascading through the tight unison playing or lithe harmonising of the viola and nyckelharpa. There were tunes of their own, not least a haunting little waltz by Tallroth, picked out on damped strings until the nyckelharpa sang out, bagpipe-like, for the last few bars; also old melodies of intriguing provenance – such as the polska and minuet apparently favoured by Carl Linnaeus, 18th-century father of scientific taxonomy.

They could switch with split-second timing between all-out dance-hall stomp to Baroque intricacy and flamboyance, often within the same tune, and at one point discharged a barrage of dissonances that suggested they were about to break into the shower scene score from Psycho.

We were indeed well “polskanised”, but left shouting for more.