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Crossing The Stone CD Cover
Image © Sony Classical 2003  

(20 October 2003)Although the Welsh harpist Catrin Finch is only 23 years old, she has already been able to get the status of a virtuoso musician worldwide. Catrin is the first female harpist to whom The Prince of Wales granted the prestigious, traditional position of The Royal Harpist in 2000, another Welsh celebrity Karl Jenkins asked her to become involved in making the previous Adiemus album, Adiemus IV - The Eternal Knot. In addition, HRH The Prince of Wales commissioned even more music from Karl, and the result was a double harp concerto based on a Welsh folk tune "Over The Stone". After the work was premiered in Wales in 2002, Karl Jenkins became a producer of her next album, composed some more music for it, and the album Crossing The Stone (Sony Classical (UK) SK87320, 2003) was born.

Stylistically the album is a rainbow of various musical styles, and in addition to the original compositions of Karl himself, he has also arranged some very interesting pieces for the album. Most of the double harp concerto movements have been included, as well as very fine and, more or less,modernised versions of some famous classical tunes. Catrin is accompanied by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, with Karl Jenkins as a conductor, but there are also pieces of solo harp included.

The album starts off with a really exciting arrangement of Dave Grusin's "Mountain Dance." I haven't been able to hear the original version as yet, but already the first track shows how well even jazz music fits to be played by the harp! And the excitement just doesn't stop there, since the next track, an original Karl Jenkins composition called "Harpers Bizarre", multiplies Catrin's harp by 8 times and is aptly described as "minimalism meets the blues"! Reminds me a lot from Karl's work in Nucleus during the early 1970's before he joined Soft Machine.

The third track is also hugely jazz-oriented, and it's a small wonder because the composer of the piece "James" is Pat Metheney. I don't know how much the harp students around the world really play jazz things during their instrument lessons, but this track shows once again the versatility of the harp as an instrument! Simply stunning, and Catrin really seems to toy easily with the harp.

After this Catrin moves on to a more "classical"/contemporary direction for a while, by performing the fourth movement from Karl's "Over The Stone" (Tros Y Garreg in Welsh) Double Harp Concerto, and Bach's Prelude from Violin Partita No.3. Karl Jenkins really shows his respect towards the music from his home area on the arrangement, while the Bach transcript for the harp has been made by a French harpist Marcel Grandjany. Great pieces both.

The sixth track represents contemporary music again, being the third movement of Steve Reich's work "Electric Counterpoint". Here Catrin's playing has been even more multi-tracked, this time up to 10 times, so it sounds really interesting indeed! Next track is again from Karl's Double Harp Concerto, entitled "Eternal Dream"--original name was in Latin "Somnium Aeternum"--and this dream-like piece features even recurring heartbeat effects that were not used in the premiere concert.

But the dream doesn't last very long, since the next piece, an arragement of Händel's "The Arrival of The Queen of Sheba", is once again full of energy and interesting twists and turns. The handclaps provide even a bit Spanish influences for the piece, and to get it sound even more ethnic, Karl has added some Arabic percussion sounds (rek, darabuca, duf) into his arrangement! A master of mixing things up, so to say, but in a positive meaning.

Next up is the sixth movement of Karl's Double Harp Concerto, entitled "Café Vamp Latino", and typically for Jenkins, also this features both rhythmical complexity and some tonal surprises as well! As if the musicians were just having fun together.

Some would say that drawing material from so many musical genres and composers is recommendable for collection albums only, but I think that in this case it's inapproppriate to say like that. The next two tracks are, in fact, from quite different territories; whereas a track "Spain" has been composed by Armando "Chick" Corea, the track following it, "Buenos Aires Hora Cero" has been composed by Astor Piazzolla! Both pieces have been arranged for the album by Karl, and especially the latter of these sounds very interesting. The latter piece is especially full of energy, and Catrin uses fairly unique effects in addition to her playing. Namely, who would have guessed that the sounds come from the harp as Catrin makes glissandos, harmonics, pedal slides and even hitting the soundboard of the harp! This would be very interesting to be seen live in concert as well, or it could also be a part of a horror movie soundtrack.

The next two pieces are again arrangements of classical music, first of them being a very modernised version of Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune." The sampled radio effects in the beginning are very interesting indeed, and it sounds like a normal radio listener stumbles across the piece accidentally! And as the performing instrument here is the harp, I began to think that Debussy should really have composed the piece for the harp instead of piano.

It's almost unbelievable to know that the famous "Gounod-Bach" piece "Ave Maria" was originally "only" a piano prelude, and that the lyrics were added to the Bach prelude by Charles Gounod some 137 years later. First Catrin plays the prelude quite fast as soloist, and then a countertenor Terrance Barber joins in, forming a wonderful, heartfelt duet mood for the piece. Terrance's voice blend really well to the arrangement, and gives it the final polish.

After these relaxing pieces Karl takes up the responsibility of the composer again, providing a very memorable, catchy and whirling Celtic-sounding piece "Thingamujig". This bouncing, happy and quite Adiemus-sounding (though instrumental) track, and the pennywhistle player Rose Hillier really comes to her own.

Although Crossing The Stone is mainly an instrumental album, the next piece makes yet another exception for that. As most of us know that both Catrin Finch and Karl hail from Wales, the choice of a traditional Welsh lullaby "Suo-Gân" seems to be a perfect choice for the album track list. On Karl's arrangement there are two vocal soloists singing the verses, first one can hear the voice of Caryl Ebenezer (who also was involved in making Adiemus IV album together with Catrin) followed by Terrance Barber. Once again, th singers' voices blend smoothly together with the sound of the harp.

Personally I would have put the final track of the album earlier to the track listing since I like smooth album conclusions, but the last track on the album is still quite interesting. Karl's son Jody has been heavily involved in both arranging and performing the percussion parts of this album, but he also shows his great skills of arranging music with the last track, an arrangement of the first movement of Karl's work Palladio. As I have heard another "pop" arrangement of this particular movement (by a string quartet "Bond") before this, the idea of modernising this is not strange for me. Therefore I think that this rendition is equally good with the one by Bond! Catrin has used an electric harp to boost the modernity even more, and she also shows her stunning skills of playing the instrument so fast

Once again it is difficult to categorise the album, I see this as a richness rather than being too diverse, and I really would like to see Catrin Finch touring other countries than just UK and those of USA and Asia. Of course this album is really worth for having for any Karl Jenkins and/or open-minded harp music fan, but making it live would be even more exciting!--Suvi Kaikkonen

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and orderthe album from amazon.comhere.An album certain to interest long time Adiemus fans inits development from previous works and introduce Catrin's solomaterial to new listeners, further investigation is certainly worth a journey.

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