One of our oldest instruments, the harp has a long and noble history attached to it. From ancient Egypt, to troubadours and princely courts, the harp has held audiences captive for centuries. Instantly recognisable, its gilded beauty proudly announces its presence, yet beyond the glamour of its appearance, and a prominent role as a member of the modern orchestra, it remains one of the least well known instruments in the classical world.
As a touring musician, Catrin Finch has encountered music from the classical world and a host of other traditions. All of them have helped to shape her thinking and her knowledge of her instrument. In this three-part series the acclaimed virtuoso shares her insights, taking us on a surprising and a very personal journey. Continue reading →
The Edinburgh-born harpist, fiddle player and singer Rachel Newton was Radio 2’s Musician of the Year in 2017. She sings in both English and Gaelic and is a member of The Shee, The Furrow Collective and the Lost Words Spell Songs. We walked with her on the Isle of Skye in November 2019 where she was taking part in the wonderful Festival of Small Halls, in which top Scottish musicians come together to tour the community halls of the island. So, as well as our walk by the Fairy Pools, where Rachel plays and sings with the water bubbling behind her, you’ll hear extracts from packed gigs in the village hall at Glendale and the Old Inn at Carbost. And there’s even a cameo appearance by our old friend the fiddle player and composer Duncan Chisholm.
Even before the first notes of harp and kora play out from this excellent second disc by Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese Kora player Seckou Keita, there is a lovely piece of romance surrounding it that mirrors the two musics that this duo have put together so very successfully. The main star of Soar is the Osprey, a raptor that has begun breeding again in Wales after a four hundred year absence when it was effectively persecuted to extinction in the country as vermin. The bond between Wales and West Africa has been re-established for the bird, with the first to remake the several thousand mile round journey being christened ‘Clarach’, which also provides the title of the opening track.
As was clear from the duo’s debut Clychau Dibon from 2013, the music produced from this pairing seems to be more a re-establishing of sound and musical cultures, rather than an introduction, which of course ties in well with the story of our eponymous bird, flying the flag for the species in Wales. ‘Clarach’ begins spacious, with a long bass note and phonetics playing alongside the picked kora, before the harp line begins to set a pace and rhythm that grows in strength and urgency as the track develops. At six minutes, there is time to allow the music to unfold here and switch from a minor to major key, which adds to the drama of the bird’s journey, so skilfully illustrated through the duo’s playing. Just before we are two thirds through, there is a subtle shift where the energy calms and Keita’s kora line jumps away from the harp, as if being carried off on a breeze, before rejoining for a rousing end. It’s examples like this running through the whole set that displays the trust the pair have in each other’s ability and the relationship they have built through collaborating this past six years. Continue reading →