A British Promenade
Sandrine Chatron (harp)
Ophélie Gaillard (cello)
Michael Bennett (tenor)
rec. Little Tribeca au Temple Saint-Pierre, Paris, 2016. APARTÉ AP140 [78:25]
This bumper assortment of British music for harp comes from a French harpist; not that the fact of her nationality is remarkable. It comes in a digipack courtesy of a French label. No half measures either - the CD is within hailing distance of eighty minutes (21 tracks). The recital moves from the lushly enjoyable romance of Bowen's at times Ravel-like Arabesque to the steadier and emotionally cooler waters of Berkeley's Nocturne.
The Bowen Arabesque (1932) is a longish piece in this company and is full of impressionist delicacy as well as grander sweeping gestures. Howells' Prelude (1915) is a dewy pastoral with a luxurious sentimental tracery and a poignant emotional pull. Nothing here is mere prettiness. Harpists must be delighted that there is so much in this piece to engage with, and at so many levels.
Harpist Sandrine Chatron is joined by Ophélie Gaillard for another work of the Great War years: Bantock's Hamabdil (1917). The title, which suggests Arabic atmosphere, belies the windingly Semitic melodic way traced by both harp and cello. It could play well as a chamber counterpart to Bruch's Kol Nidrei. Then there's more exotica of a sort, this time from Cyril Scott who was a long-time companion of Bantock. Scott was left high and dry by musical fashion after Bantock's death in 1946. Scott lived on until 1970, surviving his friend by a quarter century. This Celtic Fantasy is from 1926 and I cannot recall hearing about it until now. It is less bardic although it has some druidic depths. Its constant fast-trickling babble and seductive sweep is on a large scale. It's the single largest span of music in this collection. Keeping complementary company among the composers so far named is Eugene Goossens whose sisters included harpist Sidonie (1899-2004) a very long-time member of the BBCSO. His two short Ballades op. 38 (1924) are exercises in silvery enchantment. As is typical of much of Goossens' other music the melodies are subtle rather than in direct speech.
Grace Williams' Hiraeth I have heard before in the hands of Sioned Williams. It's a magically delicate, sensitive and quintessentially concentrated piece. Hiraeth approximates in its means to longing or yearning which seems very fitting for this music. Berkeley's Five Heroic Poems are in a drier style. The most impressive songs here are the lovely regretful These springs were maidens and the darker My God, Look on me withe'eye. David Watkins' wanly sung Scarborough Fair immerses itself in pallor.
Rubbra's Discourse, which has featured in at least one other collection, is eloquent yet severe. Plangent playing from Chatron and Gaillard. The cello carries Rubbra's signature legato style and does so with a candour that the harp part cannot fully emulate.
Britten's Suite was written for Osian Ellis and is lavish in invention, virtuosic and darkly expressive. For all this work's apparent technical gauntlets thrown down this is always musically satisfying. These qualities carry over into Britten's Canticle V, a T S Eliot setting.
The Berkeley Nocturne dates from 1967. It's an expressive flourish - a dream subsiding into satiated tiredness; music rounded with a sleep.
I rather liked the reproduction (on p. 14 of the booklet) of Simon Palmer's countryside painting The Composers - stylised trees and landscape in the manner of Paul Nash whose tree scene once distinguished Richard Deering's 1970s Saga LP of British piano music.
The very capable and rewarding liner-notes are by Laura Tunbridge and are in English and French
All the sung words, as in the David Watkins, Berkeley and Britten pieces, are set out legibly and sensibly in both English and French.
The finest English harp music disc I know.
Track-List York BOWEN (1884-1961)
1. Arabesque (1932) [6:41] Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
2. Prelude for harp (1915) [5:09] Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946)
3. Hamabdil (Hebrew Melody) for cello and harp (1917) [5:05] Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
4. Celtic Fantasy for harp (1926) [10:01] Eugène GOOSSENS (1893-1962)
5. Ballade No. 1 for harp, Op. 38 (1924) [3:22]
6. Ballade No. 2 for harp, Op. 38 (1924) [4:04] David WATKINS (arr.)
7. Scarborough Fair, traditional folksong (arr. for voice and harp) [2:01] Grace WILLIAMS (1906-1977)
8. Hiraeth for harp (1951) [2:19] Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989) Five Herrick Poems for tenor and harp, Op. 89 (1974)
9. “Now is your turne, my dearest, to be set”, Andante [1:18]
10. “Dearest of thousands, now the time draws neare”, Lento [2:27]
11. “These springs were maidens once that lov'd”, Allegretto [1:23]
12. “My God! Look on me with'eye”, Slow but freely [2:28]
13. “If nine times you your bridegroom kiss”, Allegro [1:00] Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
14. Discourse for cello and harp, Op. 127 (1969) [6:22] Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Suite for harp, Op. 83 (1969)
15. I Overture [2:51]
16. II Toccata [1:28]
17. III Nocturne [2:47]
18. IV Fugue [1:13]
19. V Hymn St. Denio [5:09]
20. The Death of Saint Narcissus, Canticle V for tenor and harp, Op. 89 (1974) [7:42] Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
21. Nocturne for harp, Op. 67/2 (1967) [3:15]