In Blue Sea or Sky - Cliona Doris (RVRCD59)

in blue sea or sky

On her first solo CD, Clíona Doris performs contemporary harp music from Britain and Ireland. The CD includes world premiere recordings of works by two of Ireland's major compositional voices, Brian Boydell and Ian Wilson, as well as Benjamin Britten's Suite for Harp, and music by William Mathias and Sir Hamilton Harty.

A Pack of Fancies for a Travelling Harper, Op. 66 (1970) Brian Boydell, 1917-2000
Publisher: Contemporary Music Centre, Dublin
Commissioned by Dublin Festival of Twentieth Century Music
Premiere: 13 January 1971, Dublin Festival of Twentieth Century Music, Úna O'Donovan (harp)

Brian Boydell was a major figure in the musical life in Ireland. In additional to being one of Ireland's leading composers, he was also a conductor, singer and distinguished musicologist. He received his education from Cambridge University, University of Heidelberg, the Royal College of Music, London and the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He taught voice at the Royal Irish Academy of Music for eight years, conducted the Dublin Orchestral Players, and founded and directed the early music ensemble, Dowland Consort. For twenty years, he held the position of Professor of Music at Trinity College Dublin. His compositional output includes four string quartets, a violin concerto, orchestral, chamber and choral works.

Brian Boydell provides the following information in his introduction to the score of A Pack of Fancies for a Travelling Harper:

"The Prelude flows along quite simply and quietly rather in the manner of the first prelude of Bach's 48, with harmonies that float above the ground.

The Caoin (Lament), in which the melodic material has noticeable Irish characteristics, makes use of rapid glissando effects using the four fingernails, and single notes played close to the soundboard with the fingernail.

The title of the Impetuous Impromptu is self-explanatory. In this piece, a feature is made of the harpist's nightmare: the buzzing effect so often produced by mistake when a fingernail comes in contact with a vibrating string. Another technique used here is the effect of altering the pitch of a note by means of the pedal after the string has been plucked.

A Dream of Ballyfarnon refers to the township on the Leitrim-Roscommon border where Carolan spent his youth. Musically, it is very simple, consisting mainly of a singing, folk-like melody; though this is set in an atmospheric context created by a shimmering misty glissando played by a xylophone stick. At one point, a low rumble is produced by exciting the lower strings with a soft-ended stick.

The final Toccata, marked allegro agitato acts as a rousing finale to the set of pieces.

Although the music is by no means 'serial', certain characteristic intervals are exploited in all the movements, giving a sense of unity to the five pieces."

 

Suite for Harp, Op.83 (1969) Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976
Publisher: Faber Music
Premiere:: 24 June 1969, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh Festival, Osian Ellis (harp)

One of Britain's greatest composers, Benjamin Britten was also a fine pianist and conductor. His dual role as composer and performer, led to collaborations with many outstanding singers and instrumentalists, including the Welsh harpist, Osian Ellis, to whom he dedicated the Suite for Harp. Britten demonstrated a great understanding of the harp and wrote much for the instrument, including Ceremony of Carols for treble voices and harp, compositions for tenor and harp, written for Peter Pears and Osian Ellis: Canticle V, A Birthday Hansel, and Eight Folksong Arrangements, as well as key roles in the Church Parables and significant parts in his operas and orchestral compositions.

Britten described the Suite for Harp as "18th century harp writing", and this can be heard in its clarity of line and texture, the diatonic based harmony and the symmetry of the movements. The Nocturne, with its slow and meditative quality, is the central movement and it is surrounded by two short movements, which are much lighter in character. These movements are in turn framed by the more substantial Overture and Hymn. In the last movement, Britten honours Osian Ellis's heritage by writing a set of variations employing the Welsh hymn tune, St Denio, which is usually sung to the words, 'Immortal, invisible, God only wise.'

 

In blue sea or sky (2000) Ian Wilson, 1964-
Publisher: Universal Edition (London) Ltd
Commissioned by Clíona Doris with funding from the Arts Council of Ireland.
Premiere: 17 November 2000, National Concert Hall, Dublin, Clíona Doris (harp)

Ian Wilson was born in Belfast in 1964. His music has been performed and broadcast on six continents by numerous orchestras, ensembles and soloists, and at many festivals including the BBC Proms, ISCM World Music Days, the Cheltenham, Spitalfields and Bath festivals, the Frankfurt Bookfair and the Ultima Festival in Oslo, where Running, Thinking, Finding for orchestra received the composition prize in 1991. In 1992 Ian Wilson was awarded the Macaulay Fellowship administered by the Arts Council of Ireland. He was elected to Aosdana, Ireland's State-sponsored body of creative artists in 1998 and was AHRB Research Fellow in Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Ulster between 2000 and 2003. His music is published by Universal Edition (London) Ltd. and his website is www.ianwilson.org.uk

Ian Wilson writes:
"A series of paintings by the American artist Cy Twombly provided the impetus for this work. On seeing a triptych of his at London's National Gallery, I was struck by the sense of weightlessness the boats in the paintings possessed, as if they might just as easily be flying as sailing - a feeling emphasised by the ambiguity of the blue medium they were suspended in. I aimed for a similar sense of weightlessness in the harp piece, but an ironic side-effect of this approach is that the performer has to change pedals at a furious rate in order to achieve the required harmonic vocabulary. This paradox becomes an inherent part of the work."

Spring Fancies: Two Preludes Hamilton Harty, 1879-1941
Publisher: Novello

Hamilton Harty was born in Hillsborough, County Down, Ireland. He began his professional life in Dublin, where he quickly established a reputation as an accompanist. Harty's early compositions brought him considerable success, receiving performances and awards from the Feis Ceoil, Dublin's Musical Festival. In 1901, Harty moved to London, where he further consolidated his reputation as a fine accompanist and later as a conductor. In 1920, he was appointed conductor of the Hallé Orchestra, a position he held until 1933. Throughout his life, Harty maintained his links with Ireland and many of his works, such as The Children of Lir, With the Wild Geese and Irish Symphony, employ Irish subjects. The Spring Fancies employ a more universal musical language and are both finely crafted miniatures, grounded in the late Romantic tradition.

 

Santa Fe Suite (1988) William Mathias, 1934-1992
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Commissioned in association with the Welsh Arts Council by Caryl Thomas
Premiere: 28 September 1988, Wigmore Hall, London, Caryl Thomas (harp)

The Welsh composer, William Mathias received his education from the University College of Wales and the Royal Academy of Music, London, where he studied with Lennox Berkeley. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and received his Doctor of Music Degree from the University of Wales. He held lecturing positions at University College of North Wales, Bangor and Edinburgh University and in 1970 was appointed Professor and Head of the Music Department at Bangor. He served as Chairman of the Welsh Arts Council's Music Panel, President of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and Artistic Director of the North Wales International Music Festival. William Mathias wrote many instrumental and orchestral works, but is perhaps best known for his choral music.
The Santa Fe Suite is a colourful, energetic and idiomatic work. The Welsh harpist, Caryl Thomas gave the premiere at the Wigmore Hall in 1988. William Mathias provided the following programme note:

"The work's composition was directly inspired by a working visit to Santa Fe - a city, beautifully set in an area of New Mexico suffused over many centuries by the culture and rhythms of Spain. The opening 'Landscape' calls on the harp's sense of atmosphere, the central 'Nocturne' on its power of sonorous line, and the finale, 'Sun Dance', on its rhythmic capacity."

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