Ian Milnes

When I received this CD for review, I thought what a pleasant surprise to have a harp music CD! It was an even greater pleasant surprise to hear it: this CD is simply brilliant! Rachel Dent is an absolutely outstanding harpist, her selected programme seeming to display all possible aspects of her sensitive musicianship and harp technique to full advantage. Ronald Frost’s superb organ playing and sympathetic accompanying technique has been well known for several decades, and his contribution in three of the items shows his outstanding sensitivity in working with other musicians; the way the two artists play together is riveting. Jim Pattison’s recorded balance in these duo items can’t be faulted and I was amazed at how well the recording of two such different instruments has come off. The acoustics of St. Ann’s Church in Manchester have been caught to great advantage in producing an absolutely splendid sound throughout this CD of 69¼ minutes duration.

The order of the programme is really well balanced, with several solo harp items between each of the three for harp and organ. Handel’s “Concerto in B flat, Op.4, No.6, transcribed for harp and organ by Rachel Dent, is delightful, full of expression especially in the lovely central slow movement. The outer movements exhibit some really lively playing that enables the harpist to engage in some wonderfully delicate finger work in the quieter fast passages. I particularly liked the Welsh composer John Thomas’s
”The Minstrel’s Adieu to his Native Land” (and useful to have Moore’s poem in the booklet), a 9-minute long set of variations in which is displayed a remarkable range of feeling and harp technique in this moving performance. Every item on this CD has memorable qualities! To select just a few more: I should mention the sonorous chords and glittering arpeggios in the second John Thomas piece (“Watching the wheat”). The brilliant performance of David Watkins’ exciting “Fire Dance”; the stately aspects of Croft’s piece; Handel’s “Chaconne in C”, splendidly controlled; the magical harmonies in Tournier’s “Etude”; the catchy rhythms of Roger Nichols’ piece; the wide range of atmospheres in William Matthias’ “Sante Fe” Suite. The other two of the three works for harp and organ (Grandjany and Ravanello) contain some lovely quiet passages.

The CD booklet is first rate, with excellent notes on the music by Ronald Frost, biographies, photos of Rachel Dent and a lovely photo of a Waterlily, Chatsworth, Derbyshire by Jim Pattison on the front cover, plus a note that the title, “Awake O harp” was inspired by Psalm 108 verse 2.

A revelation of harp playing! Very highly recommended.

—Ian Milnes