After this first concert in this years ‘Concert Series’, a colleague on the bursarial staff told me that, having attended dozens of superb concerts in recent years, this was the best of all of them. It was hard to disagree after so well-planned a programme with three outstanding musicians. The evening (Wednesday 17th September in the warm acoustic of the Chapel) showcased the harp to welcome the internationally renowned harpist Professor Ieuan Jones as another distinguished visiting instrumental teacher for Cranleigh Music. Mr Jones’s reputation is such that along with the regular subscribers in the audience there were several of his fellow professional harpists, but those of us less knowledgeable about the mysteries of this instrument and (thanks to Erard and Groll) its many pedals, were treated to a helpful explanation of its mechanism, along with other interesting spoken introductions by all three artists.
All three opened the concert with a well-chosen part of Bach’s ‘Musical Offering’, which works well in all sorts of instrumentation. Ruth Williams (Head of Woodwind) followed with the well-loved Entr’acte from Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ which so highlights the flute and harp anyway, that we scarcely missed the orchestra, especially given the beautiful tone of Ruth Williams’ flute and her sensitive, subtle phrasing. The harp took centre stage in the ‘Rhapsodie’ by harpist Marcel Grandjay. Mr Jones charmingly thanked his pupil, Katherine Carr, for the loan of her magnificent harp for this concert and displayed its range and tone to full effect in this wonderfully French piece. It was staggering how he was able to make what is, in essence, a pizzicato instrument, send out a true legato line.
The first half ended with the remarkable ‘Fantaisie’ Saint-Saens composed for two musical sisters, Clara and Marianne Eisler, which showcases the unusual combination of violin and harp, premiered in 1907 at the Aeolian Hall in London. Kevin Weaver (Head of Strings) combined a sweetly singing tone with feather-light virtuosity, as if to demonstrate that a violinist should adopt a softer style than when playing with piano. As a balance in this immaculately planned Franco-German programme, the second half opened with a Handel sonata played by Ruth Williams. This was played with such lightness of touch by both players (the harp being better than a piano as a harpsichord substitute), with a tempo in the Siciliano that both accentuated its melancholy and provided the perfect foil for the final jig which flowed perfectly.
Mr Jones explained that he likes to widen the harp repertoire with transcriptions and the gentle course of a Schubert Impromptu was given an appropriate touch of ‘Ave Maria’ here by the arrangement. The ‘Meditation’ from Massenet’s ‘Thaïs’ is ‘100 Best Tunes’ territory but its popularity is well-earned and Kevin Weaver’s soaring phrases filled the high spaces of the Chapel with a serenity fully worthy of the spiritual moment it embodies in the opera. It was also impeccably placed to parallel the Bizet in the first half. We came full circle (as well as forward 300 years) with all three artists playing the final music: ‘Two Interludes’ by Ibert, in which the guitar-like textures on the harp emphasised the Spanish influence on the music. I am sure I am not the only audience member who would dearly love to hear these artists in the Ravel Septet and the Debussy trio sonata. Next year?