Sea of Glass
Môr o Wydr
Release Date 1994
Catalogue No. LNT105
Robert ap Huw
Elinor Bennett (harp)
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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.
Danielle Perrett, BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
Hooray for a harp recording which breaks out of the mould of the limited range of familiar harp repertoire! Harpist Elinor Bennett and Lontano Records have compiled here an imaginative selection of both original pieces and transcriptions of contemporary music made by Bennett herself.
The harp's repertoire is often criticised because the instrument lends itself to sonorous musical effects often resulting in a lack of musical substance. Nevertheless, perhaps the most attractive pieces on the recording are the original works by 20th-century composers John Metcalf, Grace Williams and Jeffrey Lewis, which indulge the textures and resonance of the instrument, while the postmodern and minimalist transcriptions work largely because their spare textures focus on the quality of the sound.
Bennett's cool and dispassionate control and clear articulation, together with a halo around the sounds created by the recording, enhance this. The two transcriptions each of Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass, with their reconstructed tonality, flank two original 400-year-old pre-tonal pieces by Robert ap Huw and inhabit a remarkably similar sound world. New-Age harp music and minimalist fans especially would find interest in this recording.
Alex Heffes, CD REVIEW
The selection of music on this disc is both generous in length and enterprising in choice, reflecting Lontano's aim to publicise the works of lesser-known composers, and in particular, those of women. The strong Welsh character of the harp is represented by four composers of this origin: John Metcalf, Jeffrey Lewis, Grace Williams and Robert Ap Huw. The last of these is the 17th-century scribe of the Musica neu Beroriaeth, probably the earliest surviving collections of music written especially for the harp, whose delicate lullaby, 'Hun Gwenllian' [is] the melodic basis of Jeffrey Lewis's Dreams, Dances and Lullabies which directly follows it. The abstract mood of Lewis's music contrasts well with the more picturesque character of Metcalf's Harp Scrapbook which includes the surreal depiction of a Venetian gondola appearing in the port of Miami.
Throughout those pieces, Elinor Bennett maintains an admirable control of sonorities, allowing inner melodic lines to gently emerge and disappear and ethereal bass notes to resound without clouding the overall texture of the music. Particularly lovely is the short and elegiac Hiraeth (Longing) by Grace Williams which is performed here with a simple but poignant lyricism.
The transcendental quality of Arvo Pärt's music is captured particularly well in Pari Intervallo and Spiegel im Spiegel, transcribed by Elinor Bennett. The evocation of bell-like textures by the use of harmonics and repetitive scalic patterns creates a meditative serenity of which Pärt would surely approve. The two works by Philip Glass (Metamorphosis No. 2 and Wichita Vortex Sutra) are also successful in conveying a feeling that we are not just hearing transcriptions of pieces for harp, but music that uses the sonorities and techniques of this instrument to create performances with true style and depth.