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Flawless display of the harp’s lyricism and virtuosity

Harpist Alice Giles… captivated her audience with a clean, classical sound and crisp articulation that conveyed a deep understanding of sensitivity and control. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / Saturday Salon: The Harp – A Palette of Colours. Alice Giles. At Tuggeranong Arts Centre, February 10. Reviewed by DANTE COSTA.

It’s not often that the harp is recognised for its versatility as a solo instrument, but this concert proved otherwise.

The audience at Tuggeranong Arts Centre was treated to a delightful evening concert featuring harpist Alice Giles, who flawlessly displayed a vibrant palette of the harp’s lyricism and virtuosity. Opening with Mozart’s 12 Variations on La belle Françoise KV 353, Giles captivated her audience with a clean, classical sound and crisp articulation that conveyed a deep understanding of sensitivity and control.

In Debussy’s En Bateau, Giles made colours fly from the strings of her harp, which weaved their way seamlessly into one another. An integral part of the aesthetic of Debussy’s music often relies on the merging together of these unresolved pitches, which create a much larger resonant sound. Such an aesthetic comes naturally to the harp as Giles explained, adding that the sound continues to resonate until the strings are manually muffled by the performer. This created a resplendent echo of notes that continued to resonate even within the small, intimate theatre.

Following this was Water and Fire from The Elements Suite by Australian composer Mary Doumany. Beginning with a rapid, scalic motif that expands across the whole instrument, Giles was in complete control, crafting delicate dynamics that expanded into grand, cascading waterfalls of sound. Fire begun with a passionate, rhythmic flamenco-like bass figure that exploded into dynamic and ecstatic dance.

Dennis Eberhard’s Especially, a collaborative work composed for Giles, explored different tone colours with novel uses of extended techniques such as harmonics, string slapping and singing behind the soundboard.

Although technically demanding, it was performed with conviction and tenacity. The piece was largely free-form and contrasts between eerie harmonics and gong-like metallic rattling of the lower strings. It was hauntingly exquisite.

The final works, Ballade and Traipsin’ Thru Arkansaw Concert Fantasy, embodied more of a transitional style between the late romantic and more 20th century tastes that contained fun, frivolous and light-hearted melodies. This was concluded with a pleasant encore of Bach’s Allemande from Sonata in E minor.


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