Keziah Thomas Sparkles With Her Harp
Today at Trinity Church Keziah Thomas proved to be a passionate advocate for her instrument’s repertoire, not to mention a keenly insightful raconteur with a clever sense of irony. Her axe is the concert harp. Playing solo, she offered a nod to St. David’s Day with a program devoted to composers from England and Wales from over the centuries. Thomas’ ease with the demands of the strings and pedals downplayed the crisp athleticism and wide dynamic expanse she brings to the instrument.
She launched comfortably into the program with warm, stately counterpoint of the allegro from British baroque composer John Parry’s Sonata No. 1 in D Major. Contemporary Welsh composer Sally Beamish’s Awuya blended percussion on the harp’s soundboard with fervent glissandos, tricky African tempos, and a spiky, kora-like arrangement that came full circle with a lullaby theme at the end. The centerpiece of the program was Britten’s five-part Suite for Harp, Op. 83. Its moody, surreal, suspenseful thickets of glissandos shifting to tensely spacious, pensively minimalistic passages, crescendoing, warily Middle Eastern allusions and finally an elegantly ebullient Welsh hymn, it was a mystery movie for the ears. Close behind was 20th century Welsh composer Grace Williams’ Hiraeth (Welsh for “longing”), a vividly plaintive anthem without words.
Thomas went back in time again for Elias Parish Alvars’ Introduction et Variations sur des airs de La Norma (the Bellini opera) dating from the Victorian era. Known as the “Liszt of the harp,” Alvars’ arrangement was as showoff-y as Thomas said it would be. It’s mostly rapidfire, rippling piano voicings meant to mimic arias and big orchestral swells, with a conclusion that’s as physically challenging as it is predictable. Thomas nailed it.
She followed with a rather sweeping, lushly anthemic John Thomas (no relation – he was Queen Victoria’s court harpist) arrangement of the old Welsh folk song Watching the Wheat and concluded the program with a work she’d commissioned herself, Andy Scott’s Crossing Waves, inspired by Roz Savage’s 2005 solo transatlantic voyage in a rowboat. A triptych, the piece shifts from apprehensive, often jarringly rhythmic, chromatically fueled pre-voyage anxiety, to a raptly glistening, hypnotically steady passage depicting calm waters and then a buoyant, bouncy, utterly triumphant outro as the adventurer revels in the the ride home after finally reaching dry land. Thomas recalled with considerable amusement how Savage came to the premiere of the work and said emphatically afterward how there hadn’t been a minute of calm during the entire voyage. Therefore, explained Thomas with a wry grin, “This isn’t the approved version.”
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