Awake O harp George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759) Concerto in B flat major Op. 4 No. 6*
(arr. Rachel Dent) [10:46]; Chaconne in C major (transc. Henryk
Marcel TOURNIER (1897-1951)
Étude de Concert: Au matin [4:17] John THOMAS (1836-1913) The Minstrel’s Adieu to his Native Land [9:01]; Bugeillio’r
Gwenith Gwyn [3:46] Marcel GRANDJANY (1891-1975) Aria in Classical Style* [5:54] David WATKINS (b. 1939) Fire Dance (from Petite Suite) [2:24] William CROFT (1678-1727) Sarabande and Ground (arr. David Watkins) [4:31] Roger NICOLS (b. 1945) Impromptu [4:02] Oreste RAVANELLO (1871-1938)
Prelude-Berceuse* [6:35] William MATHIAS (1934-1992) Santa Fe Suite [11:46]
Rachel Dent (harp) Ronald Frost* (organ) rec. St Ann’s Church, Manchester, 9 June, 7 July
DIVERSIONS DDV24138 [69:14]
What an unexpectedly versatile instrument the harp is! Obviously
there are limits to the variety of sound of which it is capable,
but the variety of music here is a tribute to both the instrument
and the skill of the player. That is emphasized here by the inclusion
of three duets for the unlikely combination of harp and organ.
The two pieces written specifically for these instruments work
best - Grandjany’s gravely beautiful Aria and Ravanello’s
Prelude-Berceuse. Despite the expectations you may have
after reading the comment in the booklet that Ravanello was the
“Italian Reger”, this is a relatively short but very attractive
piece in an uncomplex style. The longest duet is the arrangement
of Handel’s Harp Concerto. This is a wonderful and often played
work, but the translation of the string parts for the organ tends
at times to result in a muddy and unattractive texture far removed
from the clarity of the original. Both players do all they can
for it, but this is an item I do not expect to return to often.
solo harp items vary greatly. The arrangements of music by Croft
and Handel are a clear success as music and, like everything
on the disc, in terms of performance. John Thomas, a composition
pupil of Cipriani Potter, became harpist to Queen Victoria and
later Edward VII and was praised by Liszt, Berlioz and Rossini.
The two items included here are both sets of decorative variations,
the first on an original melody, and the second one of his set
of “Welsh Melodies arranged for the harp”, the whole of which
have been recorded on two very enjoyable discs by Elinor Bennett
for Sain. Whilst not surprisingly there is a strong display
element in both sets, these are atmospheric and charming pieces.
The items by Tournier, Watkins and Nichols put the instrument
through its expected paces. They are pleasant and entertaining
if hardly gripping. The final item, however, William Mathias’s
Santa Fe Suite, is distinctly more interesting in every
way. It was inspired by a visit to New Mexico, its three movements
being entitled Landscape, Nocturne and Sun
Dance. It manages to avoid the usual gestures of harp writing,
and to say something new in each movement. It is may not be
one of this composer’s major works, but it is nonetheless clearly
the product of a major composer. For me at least this item would
be sufficient reason to buy the disc, but, with the exception
of the Concerto, the rest is also worth repeated listening.
The recording of the solo harp is admirable although the somewhat
dry sound of this church and its organ does nothing to help
the combination of instruments to work. This is nonetheless
a winningly off-beat collection of pieces, very well played,
which should be attractive to anyone with an understandable
desire to obey the psalmist’s instruction to “awake the harp”.
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