SHE (Seven Harp Ensemble)
$23 (Australian dollars)
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|SHE is the only harp septet in the world, and this is its first recording.|
Led by Australian harpist Alice Giles, these seven female harpists make a truly astonishing sight, and make a truly astonishing sound. Their repertoire is varied, ranging from old chestnuts like Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring to potential classics like Salzedo’s remarkable Bolmimerie, the first work written for seven harps and here receiving its first recording. SHE has commissioned several Australian composers to write new works, and these are included on this CD.
SHE: Alice Giles (Artistic Director); Ingrid Bauer; Liena Lacey; Genevieve Lang; Hilary Manning; Tegan Peemoeller; Laura Tanata
The Thirsty Night Singers: Alex Holliday (soprano), Martin Wesley-Smith (tenor), Nell Britton (soprano), Peter Stanton (bass), Patsy Radic (alto), Peter Wesley-Smith (tenor), Janette Carter (alto), and Peter Morgan (bass)
* = world premiere recording
|Carlos Salzedo||Bolmimerie *|
|Ross Edwards||Arafura Arioso *|
|Andrew Schultz||The Meaning of Water *|
|Sharon Calcraft||Sevenfold Amen *|
|Martin Wesley-Smith||Alice in the Garden of Live Flowers *|
|Martin & Peter Wesley-Smith||Seven Widows at the Gates of Sugamo, for seven singing female harpists & choir *|
|JS Bach (arr. Salzedo) ||Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring|
|Ernesto (arr J. Andrews)||Lecuona Malagueña|
|Alfredo Rolando Ortiz||Venezolana |
|An ensemble of seven harps is a rare and wondrous beast indeed, and one might be forgiven for wondering what its unique contribution to our musical pleasure might be. This disc is the answer, and it is as surprising as it is satisfying.|
The range of tone colour the players draw from their instruments is much greater than the nearest rquivalents, groups of pianos or guitars, could achieve and much of the credit goes to Carlos Salzedo (1885-1961), a virtuoso performer, technical innovator and influential teacher of the instrument. The title track is his. Dating from 1919 and influenced by the rather acerbic modernism that Stravinsky was exploring at the time, it demonstrates a broad range of then-new textures and effects and is perhaps more important technically than musically.
Finding repertoire for any unorthodox instrumental combination is problematic so it is no surprise that the remainder of the disc is a mix of transcriptions and new, mostly Australian, commissions. The second track is Ross Edwards Arafura Arioso, his own transcription from his guitar concerto. as beautiful as ever in its new clothes. The Meaning of Water (2006) by Andrew Schultz follows it seamlessly, with simple melodic fragments tossed around on rippling, surging figurations. Sharon Calcraft cites harpists Alice Coltrane and Alice Giles, an auditory image of cicadas’ “deafening and dance-like summer song", and John the author of Revelations as influences on her Sevenfold Amen (2006), a much more abstract and intense piece than the two preceding it.
Alice in the Garden of Live Flowers introduces another Alice. Martin Wesley-Smith imagines Lewis Carroll’s Alice encouraging Daisy, Daphne, Rose and the others to make music from snippets of nursery rhymes. The effect is music-box-like, down to the faintly disturbing soullessness lurking beneath its pretty surface. It is a good preparation for Seven Widows at the Gates of Sugamo for “seven singing female harpists and choir” by Martin Wesley-Smith and his twin brother Peter.
Seven Widows is the stand-out work on the disc, for this listener at least. Many of the brothers’ collaborations raise political issues, and Seven Widows takes on a big question indeed. The victorious Allies tried, found guilty and executed nearly 1000 Japanese personnel for war crimes immediately after the Pacific war: what, then, of the guilt of Allied personnel for the tens of thousands of civilian deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The answer, powerfully implicit in the music, is that no-one is guiltless in war and no-one wins. The sense of desolation is palpable.
The only lifeline back from such a space is something utterly, comfortingly, familiar. Jesu Joy of Mans Desiring is perfect, and begins the lighter segment of the programme. Lecuona’s well-known Malaguena and a bright Rumba by Salzedo lead into a fiery Venezolana (1992) for five harps by Alfredo Rolando Ortiz (b. Cuba, 1946); and the Arbeau Pavane which everyone knows from Capriol Suite is a sober little envoi.
All in all, Bolmimerie is a marvellous achievement: unique pleasures indeed!
© Malcolm Tattersall
Music Forum February 2011
If the sound of one harp is joy to the senses, then seven harps must be sevenfold joy. In this CD it is, not just because of the confluence of their resonance, but in the care that Australian harpist Alice Giles has taken in designing the project around the concept of seven. It is more than simply an ensemble of seven harpists and their harps. She has gathered images of seven, ancient and new, and woven them into the fabric of the collection, taking the bare concept of seven harpists to a new height of musical, intellectual and spiritual consciousness, way beyond the scope of one angel with a solitary harp.
It is immensely satisfying, perhaps for the same reasons that the number seven became so significant in the literature and mythology of so many world cultures, impossible to enumerate here. Giles and her team of seven have captured this perfectly, from naming the disc and opening its program with Bolmimerie by French-born composer Carlos Salzedo, who created a seven-member Salzedo Harp Ensemble in 1917, to commissioning pieces by Australian composers including Sevenfold Amen by Sharon Calcraft end Seven Widows at the Gates of Sugamo, a poignant lament for their men lost at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, written by Martin and Peter Wesley Smith and sung by The Thirsty Night Singers. An assortment of more familiar fare including Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, a setting of Malaguena by Ernesto Lecuona and Rhumba by Salzedo leads to the serenity and simplicity of Pavane, a perfect close.
© Patricia Kelly
Courier Mail 22 May 2010
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