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VARIOUS ARTISTS - "Scottish Harps" - Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX5007

Even to these untutored ears. This is another fine joint venture between Greentrax and the Edinburgh International Festival - (remember the marvellous "Folk Songs of North-East Scotland" album from 1995?) and is a gathering of harpers, accompanists, storytellers and singers.

The 1998 Festival included a series of seven concerts demonstrating the versatility of the Scottish harp whether playing the music of the royal court or the chieftain's hall, accompanying stories and ballads or interacting with more contemporary styles of music and this album aims to reflect that variety. Some tracks were recorded specially while the others are drawn from the existing output of the artists concerned.

It's a veritable Who's Who of the strung world featuring instrumentalists Fiona Davidson, Ann & Charlie Heymann - with Charlie playing accordion - Alison Kinnaird, Isobel Mieras, Savourna Stevenson, Sileas, piper Allan MacDonald, William Taylor and Rob MacKillop, Heather Yule and Karen Marshalsay.

There are song contributions, too, from Rod Paterson, Christine Primrose and Margaret Stewart and a couple of atmospheric tales for good measure, while the series' artistic director Wendy Stewart contributes an excellent piece "Dances with Friends".

Some tracks appeal on first hearing while others seep in on repeated plays but overall it's a fine introduction to the different facets of what is sometimes labelled - unfairly - a "limited" instrument. Make sure you're not the last kid on the block to know the difference between a buzzing bray harp, the sonorous clarsach or the gut-strung small harp. Recommended.

Alan McIntosh Brown
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