> The romance of Flute and Harp [JW]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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The romance of Flute and Harp
Adolphe HASSELMANS (1845-1912)

La Source Op 44
Feuilles d’automne
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)

Allegretto Op 116
Felix GODEFROID (1818-1897)

Etude de Concert in E Flat minor
Gabriel FAURE (1845-1924)

Berceuse op 16
Impromptu op 86
Franz DOPPLER (1821-1883)

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Spring Song - arr Anon
John THOMAS (1826-1913)

Bugeilior Gwenith Gwyn (Watching the wheat)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Le Cygne - arr Anon
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Intermezzo - arr Anon
Elias PARISH-ALVARS (1808-1849)

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Clair de lune
Philippa Davies. Flute
Thelma Owen, harp
Recorded Haberdasher’s Aske’s School, Elstree; no date provided
REGIS RRC 1085 [59.19]


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Once in a while a disc comes along that is so well played, so unselfconsciously right, with a well chosen programme and a recording of well balanced clarity that it makes lengthy commentary at best unnecessary and at worst redundant. So instead let’s welcome Philippa Davies and Thelma Owen’s recital and enjoy it for what it is – a delightfully evocative programme as tender and sun-flecked as the cover painting, Les amants et les cygnes by Gaston de Latouche, in which the dazzling gold of the girl’s hair is reflected in the burnish of leaf and sun and the whiteness of her long gown, orange ringed at her ankle, finds an echo in the swans’ huddled concentration.

The two musicians first met in the National Youth Orchestra and have played together ever since. Their programme is reflective of the move from salon to concert hall, from the simple to the double action pedal harp, from the amateur to the virtuoso, from decorative to expressive demands and it’s no great surprise that the recital is very solidly Franco-German. I was immediately taken by Godefroid’s Etude de Concert and am indebted to the fine notes by Peter Barber for the information that he left the Paris Conservatoire because they were slow to change from the single to the double action harp; his subsequent career as a touring virtuoso rather proved his point. It has a distinctive and affecting melancholy and a pervasive lyricism so indivisibly at one with its chosen means of expression that, whilst it’s possible to imagine it being played on the piano, it’s a thought made redundant by virtue of its specific technical demands and concentrated beauty. Beautifully played too by Thelma Owens.

Fauré was one of the earliest of major composers to write for the harp. The Berceuse and Impromptu are works of immediate subtlety and unforced ease. Note how Philippa Davies varies dynamics in the former and how her tone is beautifully modulated, how the invitation to opulent tonal display is politely declined. Note also how cleverly she weaves the line, how softened and hardened notes are proportionate and how the arch of the line is maintained in an unbroken span. The Impromptu receives a forthright and magnetic performance from Thelma Owens and it’s an additional pleasure of the disc how well and intelligently the duo is interspersed with harp solos. The middle section of the CD contains well-known transcriptions – Spring Song and Le Cygne – and between them comes Queen Victoria’s harpist Elias Parish-Alvars, a British contemporary of Mendelssohn, and similarly short-lived (consumption in his case). Parish-Alvars was called "the Liszt of the harp" by none other than Berlioz and so technically adept was he that he even considered a triple-action harp. The Serenade isn’t one of his fearsome virtuoso pieces but one can still sense the formidable technical demands that he makes upon the performer. The Debussy transcriptions are superbly executed; Davies, long associated with the Nash Ensemble, whose sensitivity to the French tradition is pronounced, is herself effortlessly inside the idiom as is her no less eloquent partner. A superb disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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