No Lack of Stylistic Variety

MIKE WHEELER listens to music for two harps and various percussion from the Chroma Harp Duo


As a solo instrument, the harp tends to rely on a specialised repertoire, often by other harpists, and transcriptions. So two players face an additional challenge in this respect. But, as Chroma Harp Duo - Lucy Nolan and Becki Luff - demonstrated, there's no lack of stylistic variety out there, not least in terms of the many percussion effects available - Derby Chamber Music, Multi-Faith Centre, Derby University, Derby, UK, 17 December 2023.

Félix Godefroid's Prière des Bardes, Op 48, in the version for two harps by Silke Aichhorn, immediately highlighted the players' impressive unanimity. They were equally at home in J S Bach's A minor Prelude, BWV 922 - transcription by Sarah Bullen and Lillian Lau - and the second movement of Vivaldi's Concerto in G for two mandolins, RV 532 - transcription by Tamsin Dearnley. They steered Marcelle Soulage's Pièce pour Deux Harpes à Pédales from its stately opening through a growing sense of agitation.

The Chroma Harp Duo - Becki Luff (left) and Lucy Nolan
The Chroma Harp Duo - Becki Luff (left) and Lucy Nolan

It was with Amy Turk's Odyssey that the percussion began arriving. A metallic trilogy that also references Greek mythology, it involves rhythmic tapping on the body of the instrument and insistent finger-clicks in the first movment, 'Bronze', sliding a screwdriver up and down against one of the strings, and using it to bend the pitch, in 'Silver', and more tapping to offset the gently trickling start of 'Gold', all brought off with panache. There were castanets in a vigorous account of Spanish Dance No 1 from Falla's La Vida Breve (transcribed by Patricia Masri-Fletcher).

In 'Steel', the first movement of Carlos Salzedo's five-movement Pentacle, chopsticks tapped on the instrument's body, combined with pungent harmonics, suggested the industrial sounds also evoked in much other music of the 1920s. Austrian harpist and composer Monika Stadler, on the other hand drew on a visit to the Pembrokeshire national park in her recent Preseli Skies, gentle and song-like, with references to traditional Welsh harp music.

Lucy Nolan works regularly with the Indian arts organisation Manasamitra, based in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, and its founder Supriya Nagarajan, whose joint composition with Hari Baskar, Rains in Mumbai, is full of both dance-like, pulsing ostinatos and more atmospheric writing.

The underlying scenario of Caroline Lizotte's Raga, Op 41, involves sailing to India, buying some local percussion instruments and sailing off again. Suspended cymbal, crotales, a foot-operated tambourine, and the screwdriver, again, producing, this time, a kind of howling sound to suggest whale-song, all came into play in the build-up of texture.

San Francisco-based Conrad Susa's A Christmas Rhapsody, extracted from his choral-orchestral A Christmas Garland, and a sparkling arrangement of 'We wish you a merry Christmas', provided a seasonal ending, after which the players relaxed into an impromptu question-and-answer session with the audience, taking us on a brief tour of the harp's workings.

Copyright © 29 December 2023 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK



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