Reviews of Carn Ingli
No.343/344 Jan/Feb 2012
For me Llio Rhydderch of Anglesey/Ynys Mon is at the heart of Welsh music. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s as if, for Irish music, Turlogh Carolan was alive and playing now. Or like the greatest of west African kora griots, music that’s the memory of a people. Yet astonishingly, she still doesn’t seem to be known about and cherished as she should be.
It’s not just that she’s the greatest living player of triple harp; it’s her ability to create melodies and variations, and to listen and improvise with the finest subtlety and luminosity, as those who have had the privilege of playing with her will know. Until now her own albums have only featured harp, but here she duets on some pieces with Tomos Williams’ mistily muted trumpet or flugelhorn. Not the most obvious of counterparts, but Williams is sensitively minimal, just accentuating or responding to melody lines, giving this album an elegiac wistfulness.
There are very occasional light touches, too, of texture from another instrument: drumkit. Only brushes lightly stroking a skin or a tish of cymbal, but I could do without them; they evoke the wrong images, an intrusion, albeit slight and not too distracting, into the airy, natural world of Llio’s harp, into which the trumpet manages to enter without breaking the spell.
But it’s really all about Llio’s thought-filled, rippling, offsetting notes on the three parallel rows of her tall harp’s taught nylon strings. When we recorded together back in 2003, as she played she was watching through the big windows of Jens Schroeder’s then Dreamworld Studio in Pembrokeshire, evening flocks of starlings wheeling in front of the last streaks of sunlight on darkening hills. That’s my lasting image of her music.
This album is again finely recorded by Schroeder, and its title and the artwork reflect another similar inspirational view, of the slopes of the north Pembrokeshire iron-age hill-fort of Carn Ingli near which it was recorded. Music of wind-blown sky over sweeps of grey-green and long shadow, coupled with an almost courtly stateliness, but full of humanity and devoid of pretension, that reaches back over the centuries.
Just listen, to this or any of her albums, Or better still, if the chance ever presents, encounter her in person; just you, and her, and the harp, in a quiet room with clear, low winter light streaming in through the window
August/September 2011 No.167
THIS is an album of breathtaking beauty and of huge importance, both in terms of Wales’ cultural heritage and of the future development of that most precious inheritance.
Llio Rhydderch’s continual and ever-developing creativity never fails to astound and delight. In this combination of triple harp, trumpet and drums, the harp takes pride of place, with several tracks being solo. When the trumpet comes in, it always responds sensitively to the harp’s voice. Similarly, Mark O’Connor’s drum are minimalist and delicate entering like the flutter of a heart beat in response to the harp.
Castell Rhos y Llan is a remarkable reworking for trumpet and drums in answer to Llio’s earlier interpretation from her album Melangell. The combination of improvisation and melody is at the core of her playing. The music here goes straight to the heart. I will always return to Carn Ingli as a source of comfort and inspiration.
CAMBRIA - Volume/Cyfrol 13 Number/Rhif 1
The increasing popularity of Welsh traditional music in recent years has given rise to several outstanding recordings by the up-and-coming generation of young artists – each, in turn, presenting an array of old and newly-composed pastiche melodies with varied instrumental combinations that represent the wealth of indigenous repertoire. Few triple harpists, however, can equal Llio Rhydderch’s contribution to music in Wales, not only in maintaining a unique, centuries-old tradition but also in sustaining the art of subtle variation and refined extemporisation. As a pupil of Nansi Richards Jones (Telynores Maldwyn, 1888-1979), she was nurtured and honed her skills with the doyenne of Welsh folk music, yet surprisingly, it is only during the past decade or so that Llio’s mastery has been captured on CD, recently giving rise to the 5th and probably the most adventurous of all her releases.
Carn Ingli, a spectacular Celtic hillfort on the outskirts of Newport, Pembrokeshire, serves as the inspiration for this 13-track recording. Original melodies have been drawn from the 18th and 19th century published collections, including the works of John Parry (‘Blind John Parry of Ruabon’), Davidson’s Musical Miracles or 250 Welsh Airs (1859), from the manuscripts of Iolo Morganwg and Maurice Edwards, as well as from oral sources (primarily from Llio’s youth) – the material, however, is presented in a new and breath-takingly refreshing guise. Accompanied by Tomos Williams on muted trumpet, this is undoubtedly Llio Rhydderch’s tour de force and a striking reminder of the cultured art of genuine Welsh harp playing with inspired additions from other members of the ensemble. Sensitivity and dexterity characterize all her performances, and such features become evident in ‘Seren Syw’ (track 2) and ‘Marwnad yr Ehedydd (track 3), while Tomos Williams’ occasional doubling and presentation of the solo line on trumpet, complements the vibrant string sound and adds an other-worldly dimension to the instrumental texture.
‘Y Folantein’ (track 7) is strikingly colourful, ‘Y Tincer bach’ (track 8) is playful, while ‘Ecclesia’ (track 9) is sombre and in-keeping with the spirit of rite and ritual. The closing ‘Bedd f’anwylyd’ (track 13) with its modal inflections is laden with sublime pathos in tune with the age-old folk tale. ‘Castell Rhos y Llan’ (track 10) breaks new ground and gives pride of place to trumpet and percussion combination, while ‘Yr Hen Amarylis (track 12) highlights the triple harp in all its glory.
Welsh harpists and trumpeters from Wales were regularly employed in the royal courts of Edwards I and II during the 13th and 14th century and one can only assume that the most enterprising amongst them would have performed the airs and melodies of Wales as duets and trios in their somewhat different setting. Llio Rhydderch does far more than merely present indigenous repertoire in Carn Ingli, however – her music has meaning, flair and direction – foundational for a much needed revival of traditional music.
Rock and Reel
Dai Jeffries, Volume 2 No.29 September/October 2011
The triple harp is the traditional instrument of Wales; the trumpet and flugelhorn somewhat less so. But these contrasting instruments have come together to make an album of Welsh folk melodies that sounds remarkably modern.
Llio opens the proceeding innocuously enough with solo harp. The first appearance of the trumpet, in ‘Seren Syw’, sounds disconcertingly like a human voice for a moment before becoming an evocation of dark, rain-glistening streets, and Llio underpins the melody of ‘Marwnad yr Ehedydd’ that may or may not be traditionally correct.
Tomos is given free rein for ‘Castell Rhos y Llan’ with thundering percussion from Mark O’Connor, whose contributions have hitherto been quite restrained. This is an album of contrast with jolly tunes such as ‘Y Folantain’, ‘Tair Dawns’ and ‘Yr Hen Amarylis’, the lament that is ‘Ffarwel i Gymru’ – farewell to Wales: a reason for lamentation if ever there was – and the magnificent ‘Ecclesia’.
Carn Ingli is the perfect argument against pigeonholing music. It’s traditional music that sometimes sounds classical and sometimes sounds like jazz. It’s all rather wonderful.
SONGLiNES THE WORLD MUSIC MAGAZINE
by Julian May
A revered harpist steeped in the music of Wales, a young jazz trumpeter; and a percussionist. This might seem an unlikely combination, one might at first think. But this trio is working with the fundamentals of instrumental music – things plucked, blown and banged. What else can a musician do? Well, scrape, of course, and perhaps a fiddle could have happily been added to this mix. But Llio Rhydderch, Tomos Williams and Mark O’Connor make beautiful music as a trio. The plangent, almost brittle, sound of Rhydderch’s triple harp, Williams’s mellifluous muted trumpet and the spare, delicate drumming of O’Connor surprise with their elegance and ease. Each of the instruments, which seem so disparate, shares something of the nature of the others.
Carn Ingli is a mountain in Pembrokeshire and the album was recorded in a Tudor gatehouse at its foot. Somehow the musicians evoke the light and the landscape (wonderfully caught by the paintings of Iwan Davis in the sleeve booklet). The historic setting fits the repertoire too: Carn Ingli comprises folk melodies from old manuscript collections and melodies which Rhydderch learned in childhood. The harp tradition is not, like Welsh poetry, bound by rigid rules. Indeed improvisation is crucial to its vitality. So the distance, musically, between Rhydderch and Williams, is not in fact so great. The whole album was improvised in the studio, around the melodies they know intimately. And when the harp and trumpet come together to play the melodies, they chime perfectly. There are solo harp tunes, harp and trumpet duos and trio pieces, such as ‘Ffarwel i Gymru’ and ‘Ecclesia’ which are particularly impressive. An original, delightful album.