Cruit go nÓr • Harp of Gold

Review by Therese Schroeder-Sheker

With Cruit go nÓr • Harp of Gold, the world's premiere wire strung harpist has done it yet again. In an outstanding work of artistry, scholarship, partnership, insight and imagination, Ann Heymann's visionary use of gold strings has restored the medieval cláirseach's original voice, and made a very significant contribution to the history of music.

This recording includes thirteen compositions from Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian manuscripts of the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries, moving from hermit's cell to royal court. Ms. Heyman plays on all thirteen pieces and is joined in eight of these selections by Charlie Heymann (voice and percussion), Ronn McFarlane (lute), Julie Elhard (viola da gamba and vielle) and Laura MacKenzie (flute), all of whom bring a strong and seamless ensemble responsivity to the fore. Mr. McFarlane's lute solo on Canaries is awash in joy. Mr. Heymann's warm, unaffected, baritone/tenor, perfect for the seán nos tradition, sings and declaims the wildly difficult Old Irish in intimate, truthful and affecting deliveries. Ms. Elhard's vielle is poignant, restrained and wistful; her gamba rich. Ms. MacKenzie on flute is warm and gracious. Special note must be given to the historical reproduction harp made by David Kortier for this recording. Carved (traditionally) from a single felled willow and strung in brass, silver and gold, it is a spectacular instrument. In an example of collaborative research made in heaven, Mr. Kortier could have found no better, more worthy artist to have commissioned this instrument.

One of the great exemplars of the left-shouldered tradition, Ms. Heymann has worked tirelessly for over thirty years in all areas relating to Gaelic historical harps, and the techniques she has mastered bring to life a truly virtuosic repertoire. Listeners may be familiar with genres such as jigs, reels, laments, hymns and chants popularized by Celtic bands or early music ensembles on many other American and European recordings, but this production breathes new life into several unknown gems while entering or reviving the spirit of all the works, familiar or not, as a whole. Drawing upon oral and written traditions, myth and tablature, imagination and creativity, the artist spans several centuries with mastery, lyricism and acuity, and the ensemble work is marvelous. The program notes provided in the booklet are excellent and provide attentive listeners with many important citations and clues, including very sensitive etymological and hermeneutical asides. Ms. Heymann's methodology has been pioneered and perfected through decades of research and performance, all of which have born gorgeous fruit.

Of particular note because of her remarkably articulated fingernail and dampening techniques, Ms. Heyman is a master of both texture and tonal color. Her melodies are lyric, commanding and scintillating-she never loses clarity. Her rhythmic devices and ornaments fairly leap in the air. Her Tristan's Lament and the attendant rotta are by far the most beautiful and imaginative realizations of those titles ever committed to recording. Her hands are born to both solo performance and bardic accompaniment. The famed Robert ap Huw manuscript becomes completely transparent when she picks up the harp, and in their delivery of the Bunting Airrgeann Mor, both Heymanns bring great artistry to the recreation of bardic poetry. There is no hint of theatrical nostalgia or anachronism - when you listen to this work as they have presented it, you quite simply enter a world, and I liken this world to something like rose gold.

For many years, I have been interested in the homeopathic and botanical uses of gold in medicine, from antiquity to today, and in the general refining process required to separate dross from what is most refined. Some manuscripts, including the Psalms, using the metaphor of gold, speak about our lives and souls as being fire-tired, or tested seven successive times in stages of heat in order to emerge in the most authentic possible condition of pure gold. Be that as it may, there are symbolic, psychological, spiritual and alchemical dimensions to any vision of a harp of gold, and we would be remiss to leave this element unspoken. Like the greatest of chiaroscuro artists, Harp of Gold sheds warmth and light, in the purest dilutions, on a whole musical tradition and culture and in so doing, actually calls the tradition back into existence again, while showering the listeners in something precious. This is surely a special kind of medicine for body and soul. Brava Maestra Heymann! Pure gold!

Therese Schroeder-Sheker, Academic Dean of the Chalice of Repose Project