Elinor Bennett has an international reputation as a
harpist, and has been the inspiration for many new pieces, two of which
are recorded here. The harp is an extraordinary and wonderful instrument;
it has an ancient pedigree, comparable with that of the flute, yet has
infinite possibilities of tonal variation, proving irresistible for
composers of more recent times.
Of course it is seen in Wales as the ‘national instrument’,
and there has been an unending stream of fine players from the Principality
for many centuries past (whatever Mendelssohn may have thought!). John
Metcalf (himself an increasingly important figure in modern Welsh music)
has cunningly combined a ‘traditional’ view of the instrument with some
more challenging and modern perspectives. His scrapbook is, as the name
suggests, a varied collection, but it holds together well; there is
humour and vivacity here (e.g. Rhythm Study and The Two Sisters),
as well as romance and mystery (Vanog and Miami Gondola).
The Williams piece (the title translates as ‘Longing’)
is expressive and melodious, while the Lewis (also written for Bennett)
is a dark, rather brooding work which rarely rises above pianissimo.
The four minimalist pieces, two by Pärt, two by Glass, are undoubtedly
effective on the harp, though your response to them will of course depend
upon your reaction to the inevitable longeurs of the style.
Robert ap Huw, who came from Anglesey, was court harpist
to James I for a while, and was the author of what is probably the first
written collection of harp music (Musica neu Beroriaeth). Bennett
produces an entirely different tone colour for his two little pieces
– much more lute-like in sound. (She may even be playing a different
instrument, though we are not told this.)
Elinor Bennett plays all this music with musical and
technical mastery. My only misgiving lies in the nature of the programme;
almost all the pieces are slow and very quiet, which makes the disc
a somewhat somnolent experience! Fortunately, then, the second Glass
piece, Wichita Vortex Sutra (a title unexplained in the booklet)
is relatively relaxed, with an almost Caribbean feel to it.
There are far too few recordings of harp music, particularly
modern harp music, in the catalogue. Lorelt are to be congratulated
for featuring this fine artist and the music she champions. The recording
is excellent – not too close so that we don’t pick up the mechanical
sounds of the instrument, but close enough to feel the ‘bloom’ of the