In Full Command

British harpist Lucy Nolan plays music by Marcel Tournier, Benjamin Britten, Sally Beamish, Paul Patterson, Tsvetlina Likova and Astor Piazzolla, heard by MIKE WHEELER


As a heading for small-scale events in small community venues, Music in Quiet Places seems to be not so much a central organisation as a flag of convenience that can be adopted at will. It was the banner under which harpist Lucy Nolan gave a short early-evening recital - St Paul's Church, Chester Green, Derby, UK, 6 May 2022.

Marcel Tournier is well known in the harp world as a composer and teacher. A particular favourite is his Etude de Concert: Au Matin, with its atmospheric opening and flamboyant conclusion. Lucy's care for balance made sure that the melodic lines stood out.

Britten's Suite for Harp, written for Osian Ellis, is another classic of the repertoire. Lucy had the measure of its expressive and dynamic range, bringing out the dance impulse in the Overture, and keeping the Toccata crisp, delivering its snappy ending with panache. The Nocturne was quietly gripping, a reminder that there's often more going on in Britten's night-music than is immediately apparent. Lucy's lightly vigorous handling of the Fugue was its counterbalance. She saw deep into the expressive variety of the concluding Hymn, based on the Welsh tune 'St Denio', and made a satisfying resolution of its emergence at the end.

Lucy Nolan. Photo © 2018 Jack Watkins
Lucy Nolan. Photo © 2018 Jack Watkins

Awuya, by Sally Beamish, written in 1998, was commissioned as a retirement present for Glasgow University's Professor Keith Vickerman, a leading researcher into sleeping sickness. It draws on African drumming - the player is asked to tap the instrument's soundboard - dance rhythms, and a lullaby, from a tribe in central Africa badly affected by the disease, sung to the child after whom the piece is named. Like Britten, Beamish knows how to explore a wide variety of texture and technique, while ensuring that the result is completely idiomatic for the instrument.

The same is true of Paul Patterson's Armistice: Reflection and Hope, commissioned for Dutch harpist Lavinia Meijer, to commemorate the sixty-fifth anniversary. in 2010, of the armistice that ended the Second World War. It is even more radical in its demands than the Beamish. Part-written as a graphic score - Lucy held up the relevant pages for us to see - it calls for techniques including stroking the tuning key on the strings, foot-stamping, buzzing effects, and hitting the strings with the flat of the hand; the visual element plays an important part in the performance. Lucy was in full command of everything Beamish and Patterson asked of her.

Tsvetlina Likova's The Golden Bird is based on a Bulgarian folk-tale, and draws on traditional Bulgarian scales and rhythms. 'Spring', from Piazzolla's Four Seasons in Buenos Aires (here transcribed by Maria Luisa Ryan) has its own kind of rhythmic intricacy. Both pieces were adroitly negotiated.

This was something of a toe in the water for the organisers; but they should feel encouraged by its success to explore further.

Copyright © 18 May 2022 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK










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