Hiraeth - Celtic Guitar Music from Wales
TRAD Tros y Garreg (Crossing the Stone)* [4:56]; Gwahoddiad (Arglwydd Dyma Fi) [3:15]; Fantasia on Ar Lan Y Mor* [11:39]; Dafydd y Garreg Wen (David of the White Rock) [3:18]
Grace WILLIAMS (1906-1977) Hiraeth* [2:53]
Robert SMITH Amanda’s Delight (from 2 pieces for guitar) [3:45]
Thomas TOMKINS (1572- 1656) A Short Verse for Edward Thornburgh* [1:37]
Hilary TANN (b:1947) A Sad Pavan - Forbidding Mourning [4:05]
Gareth GLYN (b:1951) Olwyn Ddwr (Water Wheel)* [4:16]
Simon THORNE (b:1954) Crossing Water Alone* [10:52]
TRAD Teifi’s Dream (Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau)* [1:49]
*Arranged for the guitar by Gerard Cousins
Gerard Cousins (guitar)
rec. no details provided

A Gift - contemporary music from Japan, Cuba and the UK
Takashi YOSHIMATSU Wind Color Vector (1991) (Leeward [5:53]; Calm [1:19]; Windward [4:55]); from Around the Round Ground (1997): Canticle [5:09]
Gerard COUSINS Elystan (1997) [3:14]
Leo BROUWER Viaje a la Semilla (2000) [10:02]
Gerard COUSINS July 18 (2006) [4:14]
Robert JACOB A Gift (2005) [3:42]
John TAVENER Chant (1984) [14:15]
Leo BROUWER Hika in Memoriam Toru Takemitsu (1996) [8:38]
Mark-Anthony TURNAGE arr. Gerard COUSINS Tune for Toru (1996) [2:05]
Gerard Cousins (guitar)
rec. no details provided

We know the word Hiraeth - A longing for that which life can never give - from the harp piece by Grace Williams which I first heard from the harpist Sioned Williams.

Tros y Garreg instantly engages with the listener in its melancholy slow beauty. Similarly winning, with its pensive progress, is Gwahoddiad. In both pieces it may be my failure of imagination but the music shifts in flavour between Cambrian harp evocation and in-character Iberia. The music is restful without being bland. I loved the rustle and breeze shiver of the start of the Fantasia on Ar Lan y Mor. There is more tremble and hush in this work than the other two. At times this Fantasia is not that distant from Myers’ Deerhunter music. David of the White Rock is heard in a virtuosic arrangement. Grace Williams’ plangent and subtly-toned Hiraeth has been arranged from its harp original. It is memorable for its inconstant shifting motion: subtle and lissom. Robert Smith was organist and lecturer at the University of Bangor. His Amanda's Delight pleasingly fuses elements of baroque and cool jazz. Tomkins' short verse ‘drips’ slowly. Hilary Tann has taken quotes from Tomkins' A Sad Pavan for these Distracted Tymes and woven three extracts from it into her A Sad Pavan. There is, about this, a forbidding sense of mourning in which the intervening gaps between notes are beautifully calculated to allow the guitar sound to decay and fall. Gareth Glynn's orchestral works have appeared on various light music collections over the years. His Olwyn Ddwyr is from his suite for solo harp, Child's Play. It is angular and spare - more objective than its disc companions here. It is not lured by the sentiment of the other tracks. The piece by Cardiff-based Simon Thorne weaves silence and sometimes dry sounds to make this the most unusual of the works here as well as almost the longest original composition featured. Written originally for cello it is obsessive, chiming with muted resonance. The nagging Teifi's Dream is not self-indulgent but is delicate and elusive,. It ends 52 minutes of the most beautiful playing.

There is a reviving freshness about these arrangements and it’s far distant from the Welsh equivalent of tartanry. One can see Cousins moving to an O’Carolan album at some point.

The other disc - A Gift - alights on various compositions for guitar from the widest international span. Yoshimatsu might be known to you from his various orchestral discs issued by Chandos. Wind Color Vector is restful and betokens calm through the carillon clarity of the guitar. It's a lovely piece and part of a larger sonata (Wind, Water and Sky). Canticle is in much the same pulse-stilling vein. It comes as part of a late addition to the tripartite sonata Earth.

The guitarist’s own Elystan or Noblestone relates to the image of an ancient lone stone which has seen so much down the ages but which cannot recount what it has witnessed. It reminded me at times of the equally compelling and attractive Fantasia on Alan y Mor on the Hiraeth disc.

Cousins’ July 18 is a study of odd time-groupings - very sparse and quiet and ruffled with flurries of sound. A Gift by Robert Jacob was salved by Cousins from Jacob's computer after the composer’s untimely death in 2005. Silence, calm and internal peace are the order of the day. Tavener's Chant is simple and repetitive, leaving the player scope to explore and voice the melody. Brouwer’s Hika in Memoriam Takemitsu and the Turnage piece are more angular and testing.

Two discs here from the guitarist Gerard Cousins: one with a restful Wales as its focus and the other a tangy and provocative mix of contemporary pieces.

Cousins’ Galles Music label has, to date, recorded three CDs of his playing: the two featured here and GMCCD1001 Una Leyenda - Spanish guitar classics. They are all minimalist in design. Samples and other information are also available from the artist's website.

Rob Barnett

Two discs: one with a restful Wales as its focus and the other a tangy and provocative mix of contemporary pieces.