Clouds Harp Quartet

Trinity Church, Gosforth

31 July 2013

This is the second time I’ve seen this group play, and it was just as enjoyable as the first time. The format was slightly different, with less short individual pieces (though each harpist still played a solo piece) so as to leave enough time for the two lengthy works written for the quartet by Esther Swift, Clouds and Water. Maybe this meant less variety in styles overall, but I'm still glad they did it this way as it would have been a shame not to hear Clouds again.

After being familiar with the CD for the last couple of years, I was especially pleased to hear Clouds live again. I could appreciate which parts were improvised, as well as following how the music passed between the harps and seeing how they take their cues from one another. The opening melody is stunningly beautiful (well, all the melodies really), and the unconventional playing (tapping, etc.) still fascinating to watch.

The second half of the concert was dominated by the new piece, Water. It's slightly longer than Clouds (about 30 minutes) and quite a bit different. My first impression is that it doesn't have the same beauty in the melodies as Clouds, but it does more interesting things with different rhythms. The rhythmic and dynamic structure made me think of long-form rock music rather than classical music (but that's probably just me). So it's an interesting complement to the earlier work, and further convinces me that it's right to have both pieces in the set, for contrast. And the unconventional playing is still there. Two of the movements have vocal elements (sung by Esther with harmonies from two of the others) and one movement has... well, I guess you would have to call it "prepared harp", harps with objects woven between the strings to produce some extraordinary sounds. So, on first impressions, a very impressive and satisfying piece of music.

And all played with flawless skill by the four harpies, naturally.

The show ended with an encore of Burns' Ae Fond Kiss, beautifully sung as well as played.

How much did I enjoy the gig? I’m going again tomorrow. That's how much.