A triple-strung harp recital from Robin Ward

St Christopher’s church, Tawa

Thursday 5th March 2009

Robin Ward is carving something of a reputation internationally as an exponent of a rare kind of harp: the triple-strung harp; triple means there are three courses of strings, the two outer ones tuned identically, diatonically, while the middle row supplies the ‘black notes’. It evolved in the 14th century and was supplanted by the development of the pedal or orchestral harp in the 18th century. Robin took a B Mus at Victoria University on the pedal harp under NZSO harpist Carolyn Mills and moved to the baroque harp for a Master’s degree under Euan Murdoch and Douglas Mews. In the course of his studies he became interested in the triple harp which he had to design and build himself by means of research in books, pictures and articles. Because of the lack of triple harp teachers in England he has also had to teach himself the playing technique.

He is now resident in England and was back for a short time in March when he gave this recital in the suburb where he was brought up, and one other in Wellington.

The instrument is much lighter and delicate-toned than its orchestral cousin; clearly, it would have difficulty in an orchestral environment though its voice is quite penetrating and filled the moderate size of the church very well, particularly its middle and upper register; like other harps, the bass strings produce a weaker though warm sound.

My first impression of Ward’s playing was of a musician of wonderful fluency and refined musicality. His playing of renaissance, baroque, folk, 19th century music alike were invested by a keen stylistic sensitivity, attracting particular attention, for example in Bach’s Suite BWV 996 with its tastefully ornamented phrases, .

His programme moved chronologically from three 16th century Spanish pieces and then two arrangements of Dowland part songs.

Apart from the Bach suite, one of those he composed for the theorbo, there were other baroque/classical suites from Robert de Visée and Johann Krumpholtz. Such obscure works only demonstrate how much we owe to the endless explorations of the by-ways of music, either the forgotten contemporaries of the greats, or the exhumation of repertoire of forgotten or superseded instruments, as in this case. It reveals music of very great charm and accomplishment that must stand repeated hearings.

The balance of the programme was of graceful and attractive Irish and Welsh pieces, acknowledging the importance of early harps in the music of the Celtic peoples; and three 19th century pieces: an arrangement of a piano piece by Grandjany, a guitar piece, Capricio Arabe, by Tarrega, and a genuine Air and Variations and Nocturne by Glinka, actually written for harp.

I had not known what to expect from this concert; what I heard quite captivated me both by the variety and charm of the music itself and by the great accomplishment of the executant.

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