The Loveliest Rose is an album of Christmas music from Norway; but don't expect "Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly" or even "Good King Wenceslas". This is an album of mostly traditional music of Norway and some tunes composed by the band; and even though, the CD is of Christmas music, there is no reason to restrict its playing to only this season. The Loveliest Rose would be beautiful all year round, especially on a long cold winter's night when one feels the need for gentle music that is beautifully played and sung.
Formed in 1988, this is the fourth release by the Norwegian group Bukkene Bruse (or the Billy Goat's Gruff). Band members are Norwegian superstar, Annbjørg Lien, on hardingfele or hardangar fiddle and nyckelharpa, Arve Moen Bergset also plays hardingfele and fiddle and vocals as well, Steinar Ofsdal on flutes, and the newest member of the group, Bjørn Ole Rasch on church organ and keyboards. Bukkene Bruse (pronounced BUH-kay-na BREW-sah) have toured in many countries as representatives for Norway including China where they played with leading Chinese musicians. They were also the official band representing Norway at the winter Olympics in Lillehammer.
The Loveliest Rose was recorded January 2001 in Sofienburg Church in Oslo and has the airy sound quality that is produced in such a setting. Arve Moen Bergset's voice soars through the repertoire with crystalline beauty. He is a wonderful representative of the Norwegian folk style of singing known as kveding. Wonderfully ornamented and yet sounding as if he is simply telling you a tale with his songs, he makes it intimate and accessible as his voice floats above the instruments.
Although Annbjørg is definitely a star in Norway, with Bukkene Bruse she sits a little further back and does not seem to feel the need to outshine her fellow musicians. Not that she cannot be heard or that she isn't just as wonderful as she is on her solo recordings; but the band members are all experts and Annbjørg is relaxed enough to be just one of them. (You can read my review of her most recent CD Aliens Alive.
Listening to this recording over and over, it is easy to see why it was nominated for a Norwegian Grammy award. The instruments blend beautifully with the vocals and become a harmonious one that is rare in most recordings. This is not only due to the nature of the music, itself, but to the resonant quality of each instrument as it is played by these extraordinarily talented musicians. The album shines like a clear Christmas night when the trees are bare and the newly fallen snow lies in the fields undisturbed. They invite the stranger at the door to come inside where it is warm, the music is playing, the dancers are doing a gangar, and there is a cup of hot cider and fresh gingerbread just waiting for you.
If one has never heard traditional Norwegian music, The Loveliest Rose would be a very good place to begin. But be careful -- one might just find oneself becoming addicted to the sounds of kveding or the hardangar fiddle. Then who knows -- there is all those regional dances such as Telespringar or Valdresspringar to be learned!