on 13 January 2016
This relatively short album (10 tracks, 38 minutes) consists of non-traditional arrangements of Welsh folk airs. Catrin Finch is a distinguished classical harpist but adopts a different context for playing here. Tracks 1, 2, 4 & 6 (as I do not know Welsh, I won't try to refer to the tunes' titles) employ a small band, playing in a sort of jazzy style. These are pleasant enough, even if adding blue-notes to traditional European airs may seem to disguise their source a bit too much. Also, the mix sounds almost a little too muddy because the harp gets lost against, for instance, a loudly mixed bass (but, then again, the bass can be turned right down with an amplifier). On tracks 4 & 6 the use of an electric rhythm-guitar to play (I think) a sort of calypso rhythm sounds well & reminds me of a style adopted by pop harpist Andreas Vollenweider with his live band. A bit more distinctive is the one more traditional arrangement, with a classical soprano singing in Welsh, on track 5. The last four tracks also bring out the Celtic nature of the music's source, if only because the backing band was largely removed. On Track 7 is a near-solo performance and sounds well. On track 8, which had a dreamlike atmosphere, Finch plays the piano instead and sings (the only one of two tunes on the record to employ vocals). Track 10, like track 3, employs synthesisers or electronics to good and novel effect. Track 9 is a solo performance with an electric harp on a tune that sounds like 'She Moved Through the Fair' (maybe, as was often the case in the past, it was the same folk-air that resurfaced in a different place with a different name). This is novel because Finch uses technology (possibly reverb and digital delay effects; I do not know the technology myself) to allow the notes to sustain and create an almost orchestral sound from just a solo instrument. I like that idea, as well as sound, which, as far as I know, was first done with digital technology (and an electric violin) by Jean Luc Ponty on his tune 'Eulogy to Oscar Romero' (1983).
This is, as said, a quite short album and as it involves electronics and a band it is not what one might expect from a classical harpist. As far as I know, Finch has of late concentrated more on piano playing (featured on a tv documentary on S4C recently, as part of her promotion of water-distribution work in Ethiopia) & composing her own tunes. Finch has always been keen to explore different musical styles, though. Crossing The Stone (2002), her first album (I think), which was virtually a collaboration with Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, also employed electronics and a band, doing tunes by jazz-fusion recording stars Chick Corea, The Pat Metheny Group and David Gruisin alongside classical pieces, a few arrangements of Welsh airs and even "dance remixes" of some of Jenkins' tunes. That album was a well-promoted album on a big record label (Sony Classical, who partly traded on the point that Finch, at the age of just twenty, was made an official harpist to the Prince of Wales; a position she held until 2004). This one, however, is, I think, an entirely self-recorded and self-released album.
I would be inclined to judge that traditional airs would be best done in a way in which the harp itself is not in danger of getting "lost in the mix" or, at least, sounds in such a way that it contrasts favourably with the instruments around it. Finch's recent project with an African kora player worked, I think, because the contrasting tones between two different types of harp added colour to the sound of each. This little album 'Annwn' (which apparently means a sort of Tir-na-nOg in Welsh mythology) relies more on a band and/or synthesisers, and if Finch gets a little "lost in the mix" in a couple of the band numbers, I think it works quite successfully. To many a listener, it might sound like a kind of "chill out ambient album", if one thinks in such "pop-speak-marketing-media-terms", rather than what it is, ten Welsh folk-tunes reimagined musically in novel arrangements. The cover illustration (a portrayal of Finch titled 'Into Annwn') would seem to indicate that Finch felt that at the potential risk of wondering off into some dodgy artistic marshes like a lost soul she nevertheless managed to find something worthwhile. On this sonic evidence, I would have to agree.