"...this is one of the most interesting albums I have heard in some time..."
Atlantic Harp Duo: Elizabeth Jaxon and Marta Power. Self-released. 2019.
If you’ve ever looked up at night, curious about some of the brightest stars in a perfect arc, that’s called the Northern Crown—or Corona Borealis. It is a constellation discovered by Ptolemy, its glittery visage seen spring through summer from the Canadian border to the North Pole. It appears as if flung into the heavens, and, according to myth, that’s exactly what happened when Bacchus launched his true love Ariadne’s crown into the sky after her death. But let’s stop here to point out he was not her first. The Cretan beauty rescued Theseus from the Minotaur’s maze and fell madly in love with him only to be dumped after they sought shelter from a storm on the isle of Naxos.
The Atlantic Harp Duo’s dreamy new CD Ariadne Rediviva spins her tale of love and loss entering the story as if a Greek chorus, cleverly balancing Debussy’s incidental music Épigraphes antiques with newly commissioned and reimagined works, cradling each as they go skillfully into the heart of the saga. Beginning with gently cascading scales, Marta Power and Elizabeth Jaxon conjure Pan’s flirtatious siren call, inviting the listener to partake. The mood is quickly dispelled upon meeting the half man/half beast in Minotaure by French composer Stéphane Delplace. Introduced as a question in music, it asks who and what is this beast? More man than monster, the duo luxuriates in the sweetness of his more compassionate characteristics, before tripping along in rollicking repeated figurations that reveal multiple layers to this story. Ultimately his destiny will also be death.
As a response to Debussy’s For the Dancer with Crotales, R. Murray Schafer’s Labyrinth Dance supplements the sound of harps with percussion (played by the duo) and slightly off-key strings, stretched in and out of tune to invoke something ancient. Originally meant for harp and tape, the live duo performance is a revelation. Again, Debussy’s short epigraph moves the plot forward and the duo makes the most of this opportunity, using dramatic pausing, timing, and dynamics in imitation of a narrator. Soon, it’s darkness, thunder, and fury in Naxos and the Journey with Dia by Roger W. Petersen. Complex time signatures push the drama forward finally fading into wistful harmonics. Like tears, the deep blue of the surrounding Aegean reaches endlessly to the horizon, with no escape.
Then arrives the hero, Bacchus—the god of wine, partying, and, maybe most important, fertility. Damien Luce’s is a light-footed, joyous, and slightly off-kilter party animal. As one might say, you don’t need to drink to have fun, but why take a chance?The duo is at its finest at the moment Bacchus’ and Ariadne’s eyes meet and begin to engage in a slow-motion dance. Rounding out the story is Caroline Lizotte’s Stellae Saltantem or “Dancing Stars,” reintroducing percussion and the duo’s own luminous voices.
A bonus is yet one more set of stories—fairy tales from the suite Mother Goose by Maurice Ravel in an original arrangement. With spot on storytelling, this is one of the most interesting albums I have heard in some time and one I have no doubt I will want to listen to over and over again.