First published in The Herald on 24 January, 2014
After 25 years in the business the Swedish string trio VÃ¤sen are sounding better than ever. They write gorgeous tunes and deliver them with a spry step, airtight ensemble and bittersweet lyricism that gets deep under your skin. They’ve lost none of their daft banter, none of their warm and raucous rapport. A hearty cheer went up when they ambled on stage at the Mitchell: they’re Celtic Connections favourites and for obvious reason.
Their sound is governed by Olov Johansson’s winsome nyckelharpa, but VÃ¤sen is by no means a one-man band. Mikael Marin’s five-string viola adds richness and feisty decorations; Roger Tallroth’s guitar provides real melodic counterpoint (it’s no surprise that he’s also a fiddler) as well as foot-stomping rhythmic drive. And they’ve been playing together for so long that every nuance is as breezy and loose as it is perfectly in synch.
They performed a couple of early 18th century pieces including a beautifully poised minuet from the time of Carl Linnaeus, but mostly their set comprised material from their latest album, 2013’s superb Mindset. Almost every number is a polska (a traditional Nordic triple-time dance) – in fact, if this band is anything to go by it seems the Swedes write polskas for any occasion going: for friends, neighbours and family members, for retirement presents and wedding gifts. Marin told us that he composed one polska after taking his dog for a 780m walk and watching it wee 12 times along the way; proof, surely, that musical inspiration can be found anywhere you look. As an encore they played a simple wedding waltz, Pilvi & Eskos Brudvals, whose aching, meandering melody is among the most beautiful you’re likely to encounter.