To really appreciate where Diana Rowan is taking the harp, you have to start at the fifth cut, a classically composed piece inspired by Auden's anti-war poem The Shield of Achilles. It's a moody threnody alternating between lyrical plaint and studied introspection, coloring perfectly in cautions and admonitory airs. With that under the belt, it's easier to see where the follower, The Marvelous Year, is a Debussy-ish composition, not a New Age cut, as one might expect. Live Without Thought of Dying is another song styled after classical thoughts, this time St. Catherine's, and, thus, The Bright Knowledge escapes a trap inherent in New Age releases appearing similar to this one, with their harps as gelded as the saccharine shakuhachis always seeming to accompany everything in that genre. The addition of Rachel Durling's violin is equally affective, furthering an ancient feel to the melodies.
In several cuts, Rowan infuses segments from masterpieces—Clair de Lune, Gregorian chant, etc.—and then looks to European cutures for more exotic inspirations. Yishru Shalom, for instance, is akin to a Voix Mysteres de Bulgare piece, and at least two cuts have Carnatic raga basings, Devoted being another melancholy beauty. In other words, this is a disc that finally takes the harp to a serious space, something rarely done. Georgia Kelley didn't cut it in years past, and the only LP I can think of that considered the instrument as something other than New Age sopor was Art in America, a prog-pop delight that placed the stringed behemoth front and center. Thus, if you're serious about harp, one way or another, you're going to end up listening to Diana Rowan.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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