Sally Pryce Ensemble

J.C. Bach
Sonata in B flat, Op.17/6
Prélude, Marine et Chansons
Lachrymae, Op.48
Quintet No.2

Sally Pryce Ensemble:
Sally Pryce (harp), Elizabeth Cooney (violin), Reiad Chibah (viola), Gemma Rosefield (cello) & Adam Walker (flute)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 5 December, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This enterprising programme under the auspices of the Young Concert Artists Trust (YCAT) showcased five talented musicians, their common denominator being Sally Pryce’s harp. The programme notes provided copious details about the musicians’ achievements to date, but were less forthcoming about the works performed.

The chief conundrum concerned the first item, billed as J.S. Bach “Sonata No.VI for harp with violin and cello” but it was seemingly something by Johann Christian Bach. A bit of research suggests the arrangement appeared to be that of harpist David Watkins, who has recorded the sonata with the Salomon Quartet, using an extra violin. It addressed well the problems of transcribing a keyboard part for the potentially more resonant harp. Definition was still occasionally tricky to secure but this was by no means the result of a fine performance, with Pryce particularly sensitive in the delicate Andante, then playing off Elizabeth Cooney to good effect in the final Allegro. With sensitively pointed support from Gemma Rosefield this was an idiomatic performance, given with little vibrato in the faster movements but indulging appropriately for the Andante.

Three twentieth-century works made up the lopsided programme, two of which involved the quintet in their entirety. Joseph Guy Ropartz’s three-movement suite evoked the pieces for harp and ensemble by Debussy and Ravel, but was closer to contemporaries Ibert and Roussel in musical language. An attractive, sunlit work, the ‘Prélude’ found Pryce securing a nice ‘ebb and flow’ with the arpeggiated figures, followed by a slow viola/flute duet over crisp, pizzicato cello and harp – Rosefield and Pryce teaming up well in this and other sections. The clean textures were helped by Cooney and Reiad Chibah’s sensitive string-playing, while the youthful Adam Walker demonstrated a pure, bright flute tone.

Walker took the lead for the Jean Françaix, the four-movement Quintet (from 1989) displaying the composer’s attributes of wit and charm, if a little short on distinctive melodic material. That could not be said of the first movement Allegrissimo, where an effervescent flute melody from Walker was taken up enthusiastically by Pryce, before a bluesy intervention from Cooney’s violin, suitably exaggerated. Ensemble throughout this piece was excellent, the group’s sense of expressive holding back just right, and as Walker’s sweet flute tone took the lead in the closing Rondo, the busy passagework ended with a flourish.

Sandwiched between the quintets was an arrangement of Benjamin Britten’s Lachrymae for viola and harp (originally viola and piano, and then viola and strings). The non-credited arrangement seems not to have been by Osian Ellis, despite the close working relationship between composer and harpist. Whatever, it made effective use of the harp’s lower register, and was helped by a sensitive performance from Pryce that rather eclipsed Reiad Chibah’s viola, which, thoughtfully played though it was, tended to project a universal tone. After a restrained, slightly uncertain start from Chibah the two musicians evened out, their performance an atmospheric one if a little singular in projection.

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