William Mathias - Santa Fe Suite and Other 20th Century Harp Classics
William MATHIAS (1934-1992)
Santa Fe Suite (1988) [12:40]
Improvisations, op.10 (1958) [5:17]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Une Châtelaine en sa Tour, op.110 (1918) [4:54]
Marcel TOURNIER (1879-1951)
Au Matin - Etude de Concert (1925) [3:52]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Harp Sonata (1939) [10:57]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Impromptu, op.21 (1919) [6:26]
Germaine TAILLEFERRE (1892-1983)
Harp Sonata (1957) [10:57]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Fantasy, op.117 (1975) [10:29]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Suite, op.83 (1969) [14:09]
Elinor Bennett (harp)
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, 6-8 December 1993. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5441 [79:04]
This CD was Elinor Bennett's second and last recording for Nimbus - most of her other discs have been published by Welsh label Sain. Her first was a recital shared with flautist Judith Hall (review). Bennett is one of Wales's best-loved harpists - her closest 'competition' is Catrin Finch, who is not only a former pupil but her daughter-in-law! Bennett's own brilliance as a musician is irreproachable. With poise and panache she breezes like a Cambrian Aeolus through this classic recital, her lightness of touch and ear for detail matched by a superb technique.
This disc was originally released in 1995, but was recently been re-issued by Nimbus - a no-brainer for anyone who missed it first time around. It is a shame Nimbus did not alter the cover title, which is decidedly misleading, giving the impression that William Mathias is the only featured composer, or even that his Santa Fe Suite is the only work on the disc. This undue prominence can be explained by the fact that the Santa Fe Suite is the only premiere recording, but the fact is that Bennett's jam-packed programme covers seventy years of marvellous harp music from a variety of composers of British, French and even German origin.
The Roussel, Tournier and Fauré miniatures were all written within a few years of each other and share a gently flowing lyricism of quintessentially French finesse. Arnold's five-sections-in-one Fantasy is surprisingly serious, but as imaginative as always. Britten's Suite is of similar vintage, year- and quality-wise, but this time in five separate movements. The Suite is admittedly darker and its idiom more complex, but it shares with all the pieces in Bennett's recital a listener-friendly clarity of structure and mellifluousness.
The Sonatas by Tailleferre and Hindemith are two of the finest for harp of the twentieth century. Both composers had a reputation for progressive ideas, with Hindemith dabbling in expressionism and Tailleferre in serialism. Here they are almost conservative in their elegant tunefulness and understated invention. Hindemith in particular could hardly sound less Germanic.
Bennett's programme opens and closes, fittingly, with a work by the still-underrated Welsh composer William Mathias. His Santa Fe Suite gets its name from the festival in New Mexico he visited in 1987 to hear his own music, and is an atmospheric, almost mystic set of impressions of the landscapes of the region. The booklet notes relate touchingly how Bennett played this Suite to Mathias at his home only a week or so before his early death, and that despite his failing health he danced keenly to the final Sun Dance section. The much earlier Improvisations sounds rather like the Suite's little brother.
Sound quality is very good, although the volume level is low and will need adjustment on the CD player. The English-only booklet - no Welsh? - has informative notes by Geraint Lewis, although there is mostly only a paragraph per item after a relatively long section on Mathias. Rather too much space is wasted on the full texts of the poems that inspired Fauré's piece and the final movement of Hindemith's Sonata. The biography of Bennett has not been updated.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
See also review by Rob Barnett
Lightness of touch and ear for detail matched by superb technique, poise and panache.