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21 July 2014, 11:29 | Updated: 24 July 2014, 13:47
Full Works Concert, Thursday 24 July 2014, 8pm. A contemporary classic celebrates a nation’s musical heritage.
The past decade has been a life changer for the Welsh harpist, Catrin Finch. From her graduation and appointment as the first official harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales in 2000, to universal acclaim as a sought-after soloist and successful recording career, it looks as though the future is assured for this virtuoso from the heart of mid Wales, Ceredigion. But the musician who is already credited with revitalising interest in the harp, has also helped to raise the profile of her generation of talented young Welsh musicians through her collaborations and the way in which she’s constantly championed the music of her homeland.
You might think that life as an in-demand soloist - with concert dates planned for months and years ahead - is busy enough. But Catrin has also established her own annual Harp Academy, a dedicated week long summer school, and she and her husband run their own recording studio and venue outside Cardiff. She also works with young harpists through her work as Visiting Professor at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the Royal Academy of Music. So life is packed for this professional musician and mum. Yet, in the midst of it all, Catrin decided to go back to school herself. She started a postgrad course in composition and her first commercially recorded work went to the top of the classical chart. It really has been an eventful time!
Catrin’s Celtic Concerto is an entirely successful coming together of virtuosic solo playing with some highly effective interplay between the harp and strings, all underscored by a myriad Celtic references and infectious melodies. The opening 'JigAJig' does what any first movement should do – and that’s grab your interest and launch you into the sound world of the composer. It’s an opening that also lives up to its title, as Catrin sets the pace with her fingers dancing over the harp strings, and your toes tapping in turn.
There’s an abrupt change of mood for the second movement, 'Hiraeth'. It’s one of those Welsh words with no direct English translation, yet it’s clearly understood by all with even the smallest drop of Celtic blood, or the faintest of connections with the Land of Song. You can try and sum it up by using terms like yearning, melancholy, or longing. 'Hiraeth' is all of these and more, and it’s that 'more' which can be best translated by music. Catrin’s heart felt appreciation of hiraeth is undeniable in a moving second movement.
Catrin ends her first concerto with 'Solstice', bringing together the spirit of the piece, which also gives the harpist a few show off moments, demonstrating that here’s an instrument which can be both highly virtuosic and technically demanding. But it’s also musically engaging with a distinctive voice.
Catrin Finch has been playing the harp since she was eight years old, and her experience as a performer has translated well into this infectious, passionate and highly enjoyable concerto, which she described as ‘an experiment’. She’s always on the look out for new compositions, arrangements and transcriptions to bolster her instrument's limited repertoire – and in creating her own music, she has certainly blazed ahead with her ambition to put the harp centre stage.