Recorder and harp is not a combination we’ve previously encountered, so it might be fair to say that this is the best recorder and harp album we’ve ever heard. But it would also be fair to say that this is an excellent album in any category.
The listener’s first task is to put aside any expectations about the sound. Many of us played the plastic recorder as children, then laid the fragile instrument down; and many consider the harp to be a new age ensemble instrument. Yet Feathered Swing of the Harp has more in common with the avant-garde than the mainstream. It’s as much a drone album as one of modern composition; a fair portion is improvised. Laura Cannell animates double barreled recorders (the renaissance alto and baroque soprano), while Rhodri Davies draws a double bow across the harp, making it sound like a cello. Together, they fill the sonic field, often coming across like a quartet.
The flatlands and reedbeds of Norfolk are said to be an inspiration. The album’s aura is suitably expansive: wide swaths of sound over which a raven might to fly. A slight air of ancient melody is present as well, a nod to Cannell’s Renaissance leanings. The first two pieces act as warm-ups: the improvisations of “The Glimmering” followed by the reedy highs of “Desperada”. But then the duo delves into dissonance, and the mood darkens significantly. At this point, by turning its back on life, the album – ironically – comes alive.
On “Ground”, Cannell and Davies extend chords to the breaking point. The first second includes a breath, but after that the lightness retreats. One can easily imagine a shadow falling over a once-prosperous kingdom. ”Maske” follows the path to an even more somber conclusion. Listening is like walking a path at sunset, only to encounter a dead end. Lest the reader misinterpret, this is a very good thing. Far too many artists glorify the Renaissance as a time of unending lightness and joy, ignoring the suffering that affected the typical family, the workers in the fields, the superstitious poor. To them, the sight of a raven might be interpreted as a portent of death, and dissonance the work of the devil. Cannell and Davies pay homage to that time without gloss; the raven’s feathers glisten with oil, just as the edges of these performances shine with the promise of gold.
“Even a Moment” provides the solace of a feminine voice: a necessary balm, like the lullaby of a parent to a fevered child. Closer “To Hinder the Night” buries its message in the title, but intimations of better days can be gleaned from the higher pitch of the notes. The plague is ending, the gardens are growing, the children are playing once more. (Richard Allen)
Release date: September 10