This series doesn’t do things by halves. In this disc, for instance,
16 internationally renowned harp players gathered together in
St-Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, in London to perform
this engaging programme full of the necessary colouristic appeal.
Lest one think jet-setting overdubbing was involved, a splendid
colour photograph captures all sixteen eminent musicians in
full fingered flow. The principal arranger was Paul Sarcich
and the instigator of the project was Geoffrey Simon.
Sarcich apparently asked himself several questions, along the lines of ‘can sixteen harps swing, or do Latin?’ He also had to evoke glistening sonorities, or expand on chromatic harmonies fruitfully – and both of these challenges, I have to say, have been well met. More even than these, he has had to construct an enjoyable programme. It’s this that makes this disc distinctive. He has the courage to lead with his take on Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune which survives the transformation to plucked strings really very nicely; the languor is unbroken. We move from its fin de siècle repose to the Music Hall of Paris via Les Chansons du Piaf, three well known songs associated with the great chanteuse. Elsewhere Muo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower) has plenty of refined colour and is immediately evocative. Tony Rickard is responsible for the Bach arrangement. One might suppose that this would smack too much of commercial radio, but it’s instructive how, in the hands of an inventive arranger with an ear for apposite sonority, sustain and overlapping sound, these things can work well. This arrangement respects the original material but stands apart, converted to another field of expression.
Can 16 harps swing – that’s the question you’ll be asking. They certainly make a sassy sound in My Baby Just Cares for Me though this isn’t going to give jazz harpists of yore Adele Girard or Casper Reardon much of a run for their money and, to be fair, it’s not intended to. The Windmills of Your Mind is another Francophone inspiration, neatly arranged, whilst Richard Bissill has mined an older French lineage in the case of Berlioz’s Un bal from the Symphonie Fantastique, a hazardous undertaking that sounds duly exciting. Lecuona’s Andalucía has requisite sway, and some flamenco percussive taps into the bargain. We move in Gaelic not Gallic waters in the case of Gwilym Silcock’s Lady of the Lake, a folklorically infused piece ripe with metre changes and sounding highly attractive. But the only work originally written for harp is Andrès’s La Ragazza, which is a lissom suite, perfectly suited to the ensemble of sixteen.
A final plus is the recording location, and the engineering which captures the harps in all their refulgent glory.