Review: Francesca Romana di Nicola at Lunchtime Live

Francesca Romana di Nicola, Portsmouth Cathedral, July 4 

The harp is music’s equivalent of champagne – pure, sparkling and clean. It has to be saved for special occasions because we would be spoilt if we had it all the time and so we get by very well on the white wine of violin, red wine of cello and maybe the piano is water. Today it provided the perfect antidote to the scurrilous politics going on around us. 

Francesca Romana di Nicola’s Miniature is a series of short pieces for solo harp that come with poems by Juan Kruz Igerabide, here read by him in Basque with English translations provided, that gave some context and elucidation to the programmatic music.

One soon becomes accustomed to the luminous effect in the Moorish mystique of Arabian Habanera, the hypnotic The Running and the lingering light and fading embers of Sunset. In Passage one hears further dance rhythms which I blamed on the bossa nova and while not being sure I found Ravel, who is mentioned in the poem, quoted in Walking, it was Basque in flavour.

I entirely take the point that poetry is ‘that which gets lost in translation’ and thus is only truly itself in its original langauage but I was very taken with the faint shivers of serene vertigo in Thought. 

Garden brought to mind jazz influences and prompted the unlikeliest of comparisons between this iridescent sound and the earthier songs of Fats Waller. Horizons was suitably spacious before Magic ended the set not with any classical climax but gently, decontaminated by the pure air of sentiment which summarized the whole programme. Magic, indeed.

That was a special occasion and a rare pleasure bringing with it something exotic, the sound of the harp not only for its own sake but in some evocative and exquisite compositions and poetry in words, too. It was tremendous to see it so well attended. Champagne would have been ideal to go with it.

David Green

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