Emily Granger, a well-known American harpist now residing in Australia, has released her debut solo album, In Transit, on the independent boutique label Avie and what a treat it is! Extensive sleeve notes (available in English, German, and French) elucidate our understanding of these contemporary works from two continents, particularly as the comments about each work are mostly from the composers themselves.
The highlights are the beautifully melodious The Nightingale, composed by Deborah Henson-Conant in memory of her mother’s voice, as well as Sally Greenaway’s Liena and Laura Zaerr’s River Right Rhumba, both featuring lovely dance music. Liena is influenced by jazz and Latin music, particularly Piazzolla’s tangos, while River Right Rhumba, replete with some drumming accompaniment, has three repeating rhythmic patterns drawn directly from the African Rhumba.
The title track, composed by Sydney-based Tristan Coelho, certainly reflects the ebbs-and-flows involved in travelling, moving on the one hand, “in limbo” on the other. Coelho’s other work, The Old School, arose from his time spent with other artists, including Granger, in an old school building in Mt Wilson. It captures the wonder and boisterousness of not only the children who previously attended the school but also the quiet serenity amongst nature in the Blue Mountains.
A couple of works have clever titles. Libby Larsen’s Theme and Deviations, inspired by the traditional musical form, Theme and Variations, consists of a theme with five deviations which are “related to the theme but not necessarily derived from it”, including a short jig. Sally Whitwell’s Undiminished came about from being trolled online, in particular a criticism of her work having “not even one diminished chord”!
Elena Kats-Chernin’s Blue Silence and Augusta Read Thomas’ Eurythmy Etude “Still Life”, are works arranged by Granger for solo harp. The former, composed for an exhibition in NSW for artists suffering from schizophrenia, features slow quiet passages and frequent silences that reflect a stillness for which the sufferers often yearn. Blue refers to the association of the colour with healing, very appropriate.
Ross Edwards’ The Harp and the Moon and Kate Moore’s Spin Bird are both evocative works ideally suited to the harp. Nancy Gustavson’s Great Day is a joyous show-off piece full of glissandi.
This CD comes highly recommended for those who wish to explore solo harp music and its many possibilities, not to mention its use as a form of relaxation, contemplation, and meditation.