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ANN HEYMANN "Queen of Harps" Temple COMD2057

I was left breathless by the sheer power of Ann Heymann's playing. This is an album that takes the harp out of the drawing room and onto the battlefield (excuse the pun). From the eight-minute Heymann composition which opens the album, to the last notes of the 31-minute (yes 31-minute!) lament which forms the second half, Ann Heymann wields her instrument like a sword to cut to the heart of the tradition and draw forth its lifeblood.

"Queen of Harps", the title track, was obviously written by Ann Heymann deliberately to exploit her instrument's full potential. The wire-strung harp has resonances and strengths which are rarely heard, and this piece displays them brilliantly. The acoustic effects are stunning, the sort of thing electroharps dream of. The mastery of playing and composition shown in this piece is hard to believe.

The next seven tracks show the range of forms and expression which the harp can produce. All of these tunes are old, mostly written for the harp, and rarely heard today, but Ann Heymann fills them with a new spirit. Jigs, reels, pavans, laments and a Carolan celebration fly from her fingers like flaming arrows from a forgotten Celtic army, each one finding its mark in the present. There is power and magic in this music: it quickens the blood and captivates the soul.

There is also scholarship in this music. Ann Heymann has mastered the lore of the harp, its history and function, and the wisdom of harpers past. The final piece on this CD is perhaps the culmination of that scholarship, the translation of one of the great Scottish piping laments into a harping epic. She remains true to the piping tradition, in form and ornamentation, but the eleven movements of this piobaireachd sound as if they were always meant to be played on the harp.

This music speaks to me at a deep level which is hard to express without metaphor and imagery, hence the vivid language above. It is not for the faint-hearted, or for those who like to keep harp music in the background. This is a challenging recording, for both artist and audience, but well worth the effort. It still amazes me, and I've listened to it a lot. I can't praise it too highly.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 15 of The Living Tradition magazine.