MusicWeb International

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.

The 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”.

—John Sheppard