Violin and harp in enchanting lunchtime concert at St Andrew’s

Tabea Squire (violin) and Ingrid Bauer (harp)

Massenet: Meditation from Thaïs
Saint-Saëns: Fantaisie for violin and harp, Op 124
Mozart/Dittersdorf/Eberl/Thomas: Air with Variations and Rondo Pastorale for solo harp
Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 25 February, 12:15 pm

The harp seems to be asserting itself at present. Though it’s been a pretty standard orchestral instrument since the early 19th century, and a much loved solo instrument both in its many ethnic forms as well as in its larger, more sophisticated character, there doesn’t seem to be a very large body of chamber music involving it.

This recital may well have been inspired in part by the presence of Helen Webby’s harp at the Adam Chamber Music festival in Nelson in January-February. For both the Massenet and the Saint-Saëns were heard there. The transcription for the harp of the Meditation from Thaïs was played in Nelson by Helene Pohl, leader of the New Zealand String Quartet, and Helen Webby. It is particularly beguiling, and while there might have been a difference in the level of experience and sophistication between the performances in Nelson and here, Tabea brought a big romantic sound to her playing, while the harp seemed to be a perfect medium for such a quintessentially emotional piece, a more natural partner than a piano perhaps.

Saint-Saëns was drawn to the harp, I suspect by the same factors that drew both Debussy and Ravel to it, respectively, in the Danse sacrée et danse profane and the Introduction et Allegro. This Fantaisie was played in Nelson by the first violinist of the Ying Quartet, Ayano Ninomiya and Helen Webby; it is hardly in the same class as the pieces by his younger colleagues, yet there is enchantment and variety in its four fairly distinct sections; it lies beautifully for the two instruments and both explored its interesting emotional states with sensitivity.

The next piece was a real curiosity, put together by 19th century Welsh harpist, John Thomas, from pieces by Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Anton Eberl and most importantly, Mozart. The process was clearly one that would be abhorred by today’s scholars and many musicians schooled in doctrines of historical authenticity, but if the test is simply the agreeableness of the result, condemnation would be hard to justify.

In any case, the first part, the Air with Variations, offered the harpist scope for a variety of diverting techniques, strongly contrasting dynamics and what seemed to be a muted passage. The second part, the Rondo Pastorale, was the last movement of Mozart’s great Divertimento in E flat for string trio, K 563: one of his most beautiful compositions. Here was pure enchantment; it’s hard to imagine that Mozart would have disapproved of such an enchanting adaptation , so beautifully played.

The last item was one which, like a lot of Arvo Pärt’s music, seems to invite adaptation for different instruments: his Spiegel im Spiegel, which may be the equal of his Fratres in popularity and affection. As with her other introductions, Tabea Squire spoke with careful precision and sensitivity about its basically simple character, a study in triads in various inversions and keys, at each stage of which the home key seemed to be imminent but elusive. The violin carried long sustained notes while the harp suggested that here was the sound that Pärt had really been searching for.


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.


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.