Variety and enchantment in Robin Ward’s triple harp recital

Robin Ward

Folksongs and Classical works for triple harp

Adam Concert Room

Wednesday, 20 March 2013 at 7.30pm

I was sorry that a larger audience was not present to hear this brilliant and enchanting recital on a little-known instrument.

The programme covered works written for a variety of instruments, but all beautifully rendered on the triple harp, made by Robin Ward himself, also the transcriber of many of the items.  Playing any harp seems pretty skilled to me, but to have three rows of strings surpasses merely skilled!

All the groups of items were introduced in a most informative and informal way by the performer.  We learnt a lot in a short time.  The triple harp travelled fromItalytoEnglandand became established in the second half of the eighteenth century.  It was adopted by the Welsh, and early in the nineteenth century became widely known as the Welsh harp.

Not only was the triple harp lovely to hear, it was lovely to look at.  With a minimum of gesture, Robin Ward played elegantly and skilfully.  This harp, unlike the orchestral harp, has no pedals.  Chromatic playing is obtained by having the three rows of strings.  While there is some overlap; i.e. some notes are doubled up between the rows, music can be played in all the keys.  Watching the player reminded me of the separate uses of the left hand and the right hand on the piano.  However, since there are no keys to play on, it was amazing how fast Robin Ward could play.

The sound was evocative of the countryside.  At times ethereal, at other times the sound was strong.

The first group of pieces was, appropriately, by Welsh composers: Aileen Aroon and David of the White Rock by John Parry (1710-1782), and The Rising Lark by Edward Jones (1796).  The extensive variations in the first piece were delightful; this was certainly heavenly music.

Next were Pavan Lachrimae and Can she excuse by the most noted English composer of the day, John Dowland (1563-1626).  These appealing pieces were written for lute, but were most satisfactory on the triple harp; they seemed to me to have a more rounded resonance.

Jean-Baptiste Cardon (1760-1803) wrote mainly for the harp, the pedal version of the instrument enjoying great popularity inFranceduring his period.  Ward referred to the Sonata (allegro, rondo) that he played as ‘salon trash’, but nevertheless, it revealed a variety of timbres and dynamics; I found it charming, and admired the considerable dexterity Robin Ward demonstrated.

To something more recent: Tárrega’s well-known Capricho Árabe, written for the guitar.  Despite its dedication by Tárrega (1852-1909) to the Moors, who had such a huge influence on Spanish culture through their hundreds of years of residence in Spain, the delicate yet stirring work seemed to me to have a very Spanish quality.  That may be because what we think of as Spanish includes Arabic elements.

Sonata Bastada by Sophia Corri (1775-c.1831 – according to Wikipedia) was a combination by Ward of movements from two of her sonatas (allegro maestoso, Farewell to Lochaber, rondo-Caledonian Hunt).  These were classical in style; she composed quite a number of pieces for the pedal harp.  Corri was Scottish, of Italian descent, and married firstly to the composer Jan Dussek.  They lived inLondon.  The music was most attractive; the fast third movement was a very jolly Scottish piece.

A group of Irish pieces for harp followed.  Robin Ward explained that the original Irish harp had brass strings and was played with the fingernails, but that it had largely gone by the 1770s, so that by the time the music was written down, it was set for other instruments.  The five pieces dating from late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries had lovely folksy melodies, and were most engaging, from General Leslys godnight from the Wemyss Lute Book (c1645) to Sir Thomas Burke by Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738).

Augustín Barrios Mangoré was a Paraguayan composer for the guitar (1885-1944); his La Catedral in three movements (the first movement, Preludio Saudade being written later than the andante religioso and allegro solemne movements).  It’s Bach-like character, particularly in the first movement, was pleasing, as indeed were the cascades in the last movement, giving the piece an almost orchestral feel and effect.

Albéniz (1860-1909) was represented by one of his most well-known works, Leyenda, more often known as Asturias.  Like much of his music usually played on the guitar, it was originally written for piano.  Robin Ward transcribed this piece for the triple harp, incorporation some of the piano version as well as that for guitar.

It was played very fast – the Andalusian dancers would have needed to be very quick on their feet.  But in no way could Ward be called a showy performer.

I sometimes find guitar concerts pall through similarity of timbre and style; this triple harp concert of a little over one hour’s duration retained my interest and enjoyment throughout, such was the variety of styles of music and sounds.  In fact it was ‘some enchanted evening’, musically.


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