various artists,
Masters of the Harp
(ARC, 2003)

The harp conjures words like lush, ethereal, celestial, soothing, melodic and so on. It is an instrument that is appealing to people from many cultures. We have all seen the golden harps used in movies or in concert, oftentimes being played by an elegant woman in a flowing gown, or perhaps Harpo Marx. Thus, when I heard Masters of the Harp, I realized that its beauty lies not only in the elegant playing demonstrated by each performer, but also in their significant expertise and love of their instrument.

In each piece, whether the harp being played was from Wales or from China, its distinct tonal qualities, as well as its versatility, were quite obvious.

One of the better parts of this package is in the liner notes, where each artist lists a brief biography and a reason why he or she plays variations of the harp. There are many different types of harps, as well as styles of playing, and these musicians all demonstrate a knowledge of their instrument that enables them to be gifted performers. Of the 13 performers and groups on this CD, each brings a unique regional flavor to the particular piece they play, and entice the listener into being fully involved in listening to it.

It is fascinating to think of the many countries that have harpists and harpers, and that there are people from a number of cultures who come from a long familial tradition of playing. Robin Huw Bowen is a leading player of the Welsh triple harp, the national instrument of Wales. His piece, "Morfa'r Frenhines/The Queen's Marsh," is beautifully played, evoking the ancient nature of Wales and his heritage.

Other fine pieces are performed variously by Robin Williamson, a Scot who plays more than 30 instruments and heavily influenced the styles of Bob Dylan, and John Lennon; Rodrigo Romani, a Spaniard who plays harp and is lead singer of the famous Galician group Milladoiro; Oscar Benito, a Paraguayan who plays the Paraguayan harp, which is made from wood that has been stored for decades and is often handed down from generation to generation to ensure its excellent tone and quality; Margie Butler, a player of the Celtic harp, harp-psaltery and wire-strung clarsach, which is a medieval and renaissance harp from Ireland; Ravi, a long-time player of multiple instruments, including the kora, a West African harp/lute), and incorporates a variety of musical influences such an Indian, Latin and jazz music.

I have not listed all the performers or all of their backgrounds, but these alone are enough to whet the appetite and make one clamor for more.

As noted, this CD includes informative liner notes that outline the background of each performer. Many of these musicians are teachers, have written books on harps and have received numerous awards from prestigious organizations. Skala Kanga plays a classical harp, and performs "The Lark in the Clear Air." I read with great interest that she has also performed with Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Paul McCartney, Robbie Williams, Bjork and Sting, to name a few. Thus, the harp is not just an instrument played by angels!

There are other players from other countries who perform on this CD and they are all "masters of the harp." I highly recommend this selection as something eminently worthy of its name. Not only is each piece a joy to listen to, the liner notes provide fascinating insight into the varieties of music that can be made from some wood, some string and a great deal of heart.

- Rambles
written by Ann Flynt
published 22 March 2003

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