Reviews of Gwenllian
February 2006 Issue 320
Llio Rhydderch plays a wonder-inducing instrument. That and her playing have attracted invitations to collaborate with the likes of John Cale, Andy Cronshaw and Donal Lunny. The Welsh triple harp has three courses of strings, it requires considerable skill to play. To reach the middle course of strings, the musician has to reach nimbly between the two outer courses. Gwenllian (Fflach *****), her fourth album takes as its inspiration the life and exile of Princess Gwenllian (1282-1337), the daughter of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales. Gwenllian is also the majestic centrepiece of this plangent masterwork. Some compositions are pre-conceived. Some spontaneously extemporised in the studio. All seven testify eloquently to the clarity and succulence of her musical vision. My skull was a far poorer space before Rhydderch�s music filled my head.
SONGLiNES THE WORLD MUSIC MAGAZINE
ISSUE 34 JAN/FEB 2006
Gwenllian is a rare delight, an entire CD of solo harp playing by the leading exponent of the Welsh triple harp tradition. Llio Rhydderch is a wonderful musician, combining a driving attack with a lyrical sensitivity to give her playing a strength and delicacy. And it is never, never, fey. The title piece is a response to the story of Princess Gwenllian, who was the daughter of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. The last native Prince of Wales, he was killed by Edward I in 1282. Gwenllian was taken to a priory in Sempringham, Lincolnshire, and there she remained until her death in 1337. While you can trace something of this narrative in the music here it is far from a linear illustration of the events of her life. Rather the story works more like a religious icon does - as an object for meditation and creative thought.
There are structured pieces such as Tra Bo Calon in which Rhydderch accompanies her own melody with marvellous swirls of sound, as if it were a leaf in a stream. But there are also pieces which are extemporised. These, more abstract and directly emotional, are particularly entrancing because as you listen to Rhydderch, you realise that she herself is listening just as hard in the process of creating the work - like you, she is hearing it for the first time.
Absolutely gorgeous playing by renowned Llio, a top-class Welsh triple harp
player, who takes inspiration from Celtic spirituality and the history of her Anglesey roots. The fourth album, produced by Ceri Rhys Matthews, continues the tradition of the best folk music in that we hear echoes of the past, and yet a style and richness that takes its rightful place in the present.
Telling the story of Gwenllian, daughter of the last native Prince of Wales, the music throughout ripples with a freshness and sensitivity. The song Glwysen stands out with its particular delicacy and mellow mood enhancing dynamics, the spaces between the phrases giving an added poignancy to the ever present beauty of Llio¹s playing. One to savour.
This is a beautiful work, serene yet steeled, ancient yet innovative. Llio Rhydderch from a long line of harpers, knows how to handle the burden of roots and history in such a way that she can use it as a springboard to fresh creativity. She¹s an unlikely figure for a pioneer. Gwenllian however just oozes potential. Casual listening isn¹t really the name of the game, without due attention it¹s all about charm, yet spin the CD over and over again, then its subtlety begins to become apparent. In fulsome booklet notes Ceri Rhys Matthews - not one whose opinion should be taken lightly - waxes lyrical about Llio utilising the space between artist and listener, how she equally apportions improvisation and tradition. Indeed, as her producer he¹s responsible for conjuring the ambience in which a wide ranging, yet sensitive work such as Gwenllian could be fostered and committed to disc.
So there¹s nothing immediate here; rather a story of the maybe, last, native Welsh princess is an unfolding work, never sounding the same twice; the triple harp shifts like a mist creating new shapes and melodies every time you listen. Just when you think you¹ve got the line of a tune in your head, it metamorphoses into another just as beguiling. That two tracks are vers libres, bound by no recognised structure, as much as anything, reaction to the romanticism of the ancient saga or the sheer joy of playing, is one of the album¹s strengths. Rhydderch seems to operate on instinct and intuition, her creations are mesmerising, she works not only on different levels but manages to pull in so much stylistic dynamism to such a courtly and appealing recording. I doubt that what she¹s achieved here could have been done using anything less sophisticated than a triple harp which, incidentally, is no easy instrument to master. Yet, remarkable as it may seem, there is only the harp. That Llio can have conjured such an engaging record full of grace and guile, tells you that she is a consummate artist, her reputation fully justified and, after this, a few notches higher.
In Gwenllian Fflach have released a Welsh milestone, truly hypnotic and alluring. It is a work of wonder.
Llio Rhydderch studied the Welsh Telyn Deires or triple harp with Nansi Richards (1888-1979), one of these islands� greatest folk-art music instrumentalists. Llio Rhydderch has one of the most distinctive voices of any contemporary British instrumentalist. In Llio Rhydderch�s hands the triple harp becomes an instrument of wonderment. The sound is rich, rippling and graphically visual. Gwenllian wraps five pre-composed and two improvised, vers libre compositions for solo harp, around the story of the eponymous Welsh heroine of the Middle Ages. Just to listen to the music is to have movies run in your head.
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
Rhydderch is currently acknowledged as the finest pl;ayer and composer in her tradition. Beautifully recorded this is delicate ethereal stuff with the only 'accompaniment' being an occasional intake of breath. It's her fourth and possibly best album - an instrumental cycle inspired by the tragic story of Princess Gwenllian, 'daughter of the last native Prince of Wales'.
Llio Rhydderch's recently released CD Gwenllian is a unique musical experience and an unqualified success. For unlike all other triple harp collections currently available on the market, it represents the fusion of a genuinely indigenous Welsh style, rooted in a long tradition of harp playing in which improvisation has always played a part, and an inimitable creative flair which marks Llio's output as unquestionably different. While traditional airs and melodies provide the inspiration and basis for her music (heard with uncompromising clarity in her earlier Melangell - Fflach Tradd CD 234H), her freestyle composition in Gwenllian might well be regarded as an emotional outpouring of her innermost being, which touches even the most hardened listeners. This is a new direction and hitherto unexplored territory for the Welsh harp repertoire and Llio's pioneering explorations are a welcome addition to the repertoire.
Llio's treatment of the medieval theme is masterful and her emphasis on musical detail is at all times controlled, poised and disciplined. The high point of this release is the programmatic and somewhat gargantuan Gwenllian,where we enter the courtly world of princes, knights and decorum. This item is steeped in the anguish and tragic deprivation of the incarcerated heroine and while the motivic ideas on occasion seem familiar, they are nevertheless the products of the performer's own fruitful mind.
Extemporised variation techniques play a significant role throughout this entire collection. Here you can enjoy the heartfelt introspection of Tra bo Calon, with its rhythmic assertiveness, bask in the quiet contemplative mood of Gwales, in vers libre style, rich in its sonorous harmonies and meditate on the soothingly melancholic beauty of Crud y Fenai. There is something decidedly brave and inspirational about Lincolnshire, again in vers libre style, while Diniweidrwydd's charm gladdens the mind before the set draws to a full close with a progressive Glwysen air.
This CD is a true classic, worthy of international recognition in every respect.
world music magazine RECENSIONI
Per finire, il nuovo album dell'arpista gallese Llio Rhydderch, personalità dal rimarchevole bagaglio musicale già nota ai nostri lettori più fedeli. Llio è una virtuosa dell'arpa tripla, strumento che presenta tre serie di corde, una cromatica centrale e due diatoniche esterne. Realizza ora il suo quarto album intitolato Gwenllian, dal nome di una principessa medievale gallese dalle tragiche vicende. II lavoro dell'artista, strutturato in sette composizioni, è impeccabile a livello di registrazione, straordinario per tecnica esecutiva, evocativo ed emozionante nello sviluppo melodico e narrativo, con superbe sequenze improvvisative.
Ciro De Rosa