Music review: The Hearth Stane, Edinburgh

THE opening concert in the Edinburgh International Harp Festival brought together three Scottish harpists in a well-constructed presentation of the Celtic myth of Beira, the winter queen, and her eventual usurpation, using the idea of the hearth as a place for music and storytelling.

The festival attracted talents such as Irish player Michelle Mulcahy. Picture: Contributed
The festival attracted talents such as Irish player Michelle Mulcahy. Picture: Contributed

The Hearth Stane

Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh

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Sixto Corbalan was a harping highlight. Picture: Contributed

Hermanos Corbalan / Ailie Robertson

Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh


Heather Yule took on the challenge of narrating the piece, and if not yet word perfect, coped well alongside the singing and playing of Irene Watt and Calum Macleod.

Their choice of music had a contemporary feel, taking in songs by Karine Polwart, Dougie Maclean and Eddi Reader, and original compositions by Calum Macleod, who made clever use of electronics, notably real-time recording and looping, although the serendipitous intrusion of a car alarm just as they began The Distraction Melody was a less-legitimate electronic intervention.

Another Scot, Ailie Robertson, opened the evening concert with a dazzling solo selection of material from her recent CD, Little Light, and demonstrated why she is so highly regarded in both harp and folk circles. The resulting mix of her own polished compositions with tunes from Scottish, Irish, and Québécois sources made for an engrossing set.

It would have required something very special to upstage her, but that is precisely what we got, in the shape of the Paraguyan duo Hermanos Corbalan. The elder brother, Sixto, played here last year to great acclaim, and this time brought along his younger sibling, Juanjo, an equally impressive performer and writer. Like harp players the world over, the brothers are simultaneously exploring their native traditions and extending and renewing them with influences from many other musical genres, as in Appleton Blues or Juanjo’s melding of Paraguyan and Indian influences on Py’aguapy. The music of the Paraguyan master Nicolas Caballero figured prominently, while Sixto’s own compositions included a solo performance of Fantasias de Perez and the beguiling Brisas del Este.

Both players combined individual virtuosity with endless inventive elaborations in sensational fashion, and their interplay on the instruments simply amplified the pleasures of the music. They earned their biggest response of the evening for a supercharged version of a Paraguyan showpiece, Carreta Guy (Under the Oxcart), clearly a very lively place. The large audience liked it so much they demanded it be repeated when the encore came around.

Seen on 11.04.15.

Festival runs until Wednesday.