Rimur – Icelandic chants (Naxos World, 76031-2, 2003)
Predating Christianity in the Nordic countries, the Vikings practiced a pantheistic religion and various myths and tales came from this period. Similar to the Greeks with their epic tales, The Odyssey and The Iliad, Norse legends also existed around this time and have survived through the ages, despite suppression from monotheistic religions.
The Icelandic chant or rima (plural rimur) which are epic songs can in part be traced back to Eddic and Skaldic poetry of the Viking Age. This epic poetry relies heavily on complex metaphors, rhyming meter and are often times constructed into cryptic crossword. The rimur that appear on Steindór Andersen’s collection mostly come from the 1700’s to the early 1900’s featuring exerts of epic poems by Jon Sigurosson (1853-1922), Jon S. Bergmann (1874-1927), Sigurour Breidfjord (1798-1846), The Reverend Hannes Bjarnason (1776-1838) and others.
The rimur were recorded in the Icelandic language and at varying settings including a church, the Salurinn Concert Hall and a small household using portable state of the art equipment. This allowed Steindor and Oscar-nominated Composer and Producer Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson to record the rimur in settings similar to the original settings in which rimur were performed. In the distant past, rimur were performed outside in fields and in sleeping lofts. And rimur proved to be a popular form of entertainment during the Middle Ages and contemporary times despite the Christian church’s ban on these epic tales. Yet, this didn’t stop Icelanders from leaving church service early to hear rimur nor did it stop Reverend Hannes Bjarnason from composing and performing these so-called work of the devil.
Today a resurgence of rimur has attracted Icelandic youth to discover their Viking roots. This is due in part to the society IDUNN which formed in Reykjavik in 1929 and has preserved the tradition to this day. However, Steindor’s recording marks the first non field recording and features a couple contemporary fixturings. A didgeridoo or another chanter accompany Steindor on tracks 13, 15 and 17 and an Irish harp appears on tracks 16 and 18. Normally, rimur are performed a capella because they represent stories being sung instead of narrated. Listeners unfamiliar with the Icelandic language will enjoy the chants’ aesthetics in the same vein as enjoying Tibetan or Gregorian chants, but will miss out on the rich nuances provided by metaphors and rhyming meter. As it is, brief synopses of the stories are included.