Review: Väsen at Celtic Connections


First published in The Herald on 24 January, 2014

After 25 years in the business the Swedish string trio Väsen 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 Väsen 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.