Fans of Robin Huw Bowen and the Welsh triple-harp tradition should check out Llio Rhydderch, who studied and toured with the fabled Nansi Richards. For the uninitiated, an explanation is in order. The Welsh have a drastically different style of playing, largely due to the nature of the music itself. Their music is ornamented through theme and variation, a more classical style, rather than through the sort of ornamentation heard in Scottish and Irish music. Due to this love of Baroque-like style, the Welsh adopted the triple harp as their national instrument, taking advantage of the three rows of strings to play a wide variety of variations on traditional Welsh melodies. (Triple-strung harps have two diatonic rows on either side, and a row of accidentals up the middle, which the harper plays by reaching between the outer strings to play.)
Wales is the only Celtic nation with a completely unbroken tradition of harp music, where the music, technique, and style have been passed down orally from harper to harper over the centuries. Nansi Richards was one of the few links that continued into the twentieth century, rather than turning to the increasingly popular pedal harp, now adopted by most Welsh harpers. Llio Rhydderch is one of the fortunate few who had the opportunity to study with Richards, thus continuing the unbroken oral harp tradition in Wales.
This unbroken tradition is obvious on Rhydderch’s recording, as she plays orally learned melodies and variations with clarity and passion. Her variations are vibrant, ringing out with the sound only a triple-strung harp can make. She also plays the more common single-strung harp beautifully on several of the tracks.
The music represented on this recording is diverse in the music represented. Incorporating several other musicians into the recording, Llio Rhydderch is joined by five other harpers on the recording. Particularly nice are “Biwmares March,” where she is joined by a fife for a stately, regal march, and the closing solo track, “Y Pural Fesur,” which contains some of Rhydderch’s most passionate playing. Although comprised mostly of traditional music, the recording includes two original compositions, including “Concerto’r Telynwyr,” which incorporates a fiery multi-harp theme with a gentle interlude in the middle.
This recording gives a wonderful overview of Welsh traditional harp music, featuring the theme and variation popular with traditional music from around the 18th century as well as more modern Welsh music. A must-have recording for those interested in the past, present, and future of harping in Wales.