Review of LNT105: Sea of Glass Môr o Wydr
Gwyn Parry-Jones, Musicweb
Elinor Bennett has an international reputation as a harpist, and has been the inspiration for many new pieces, two of which are recorded here. The harp is an extraordinary and wonderful instrument; it has an ancient pedigree, comparable with that of the flute, yet has infinite possibilities of tonal variation, proving irresistible for composers of more recent times. Of course it is seen in Wales as the 'national instrument', and there has been an unending stream of fine players from the Principality for many centuries past (whatever Mendelssohn may have thought!). John Metcalf (himself an increasingly important figure in modern Welsh music) has cunningly combined a 'traditional' view of the instrument with some more challenging and modern perspectives. His scrapbook is, as the name suggests, a varied collection, but it holds together well; there is humour and vivacity here (e.g. Rhythm Study and The Two Sisters), as well as romance and mystery (Vanog and Miami Gondola).
The Williams piece (the title translates as Longing) is expressive and melodious, while the Lewis (also written for Bennett) is a dark, rather brooding work which rarely rises above pianissimo. The four minimalist pieces, two by Pärt, two by Glass, are undoubtedly effective on the harp, though your response to them will of course depend upon your reaction to the inevitable longeurs of the style.
Robert ap Huw, who came from Anglesey, was court harpist to James I for a while, and was the author of what is probably the first written collection of harp music (Musica neu Beroriaeth). Bennett produces an entirely different tone colour for his two little pieces - much more lute-like in sound. (She may even be playing a different instrument, though we are not told this.)
Elinor Bennett plays all this music with musical and technical mastery. My only misgiving lies in the nature of the programme; almost all the pieces are slow and very quiet, which makes the disc a somewhat somnolent experience! Fortunately, then, the second Glass piece, Wichita Vortex Sutra (a title unexplained in the booklet) is relatively relaxed, with an almost Caribbean feel to it.
There are far too few recordings of harp music, particularly modern harp music, in the catalogue. Lorelt are to be congratulated for featuring this fine artist and the music she champions. The recording is excellent - not too close so that we don't pick up the mechanical sounds of the instrument, but close enough to feel the 'bloom' of the tone.