Erik Ask-Upmark,
Himlens Polska
(Nordic Tradition, 2007)

At some point, probably in the recent explosion of all things Celtic, harp music became synonymous with Celtic music. Not that there's anything wrong with Celtic harp music, but O'Carolan wrote only so many tunes, and there are only so many ways in which a harpist can reinvent "The Butterfly."

Unless you happen to be a savant of Scandinavian folk music, you probably won't recognise a single tune on Erik Ask-Upmark's Himlens Polska. This is a very good thing.

The 13 harp solos -- most of them traditional dance tunes -- are spirited and distinctly Scandinavian, despite being played on a Celtic harp. By choosing the clear, light notes of the Celtic harp over the earthier tones of the traditional nyckelharpa, Ask-Upmark produces a fresh, innovative sound that respects tradition without being bound by it.

His playing is exceptionally sensitive and skillful, and every note sounds as though it were infused with light. Appropriately enough, the CD's title translates as "Heaven's Polska." Not a polka, mind you; a polska is a slower Scandinavian dance. No accordions, no lumpy rhythm. The "s" makes a crucial difference.

Don't expect to be able to pick out favourites immediately: the tracks flow well together and share a clear, unadorned beauty, differing only in the details. "Fingerstrackarn" is a briskly paced piece, almost baroque in its finger-stretching complexities, where "Andakten," a classic nyckelharpa tune, is slower and more contemplative. Folksier tracks include "Blekingarna," a combination of two Swedish polskas from different regions. The CD ends with "Norsk Brudmarsch," a delicate, lilting bridal march from Norway. The recording never demands its listener's attention, but it amply rewards it.

Simple, tasteful liner notes written and designed by Ask-Upmark himself complete the package. Himlens Polska is a quietly gorgeous labour of love that shows what a man and his harp can accomplish together. Chalk up another triumph for the Nordic Tradition label, which is proving one CD at a time why Swedish folk music deserves to be better known.

review by
Jennifer Mo

17 May 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new