Bernard's ChristmasBernard’s Christmas: Megan Metheney, harp, self-released, 2014

“Just because it’s an instrument with a predominantly feminine quality, doesn’t mean that every harpist is an angel.”

Yolanda Kondonassis said that a while back and I always think of it when listening to the nostalgic and often heaven-seeking discs released at this time of year. Some push the envelope ever so much to maintain distinction and stay just short of cloying.

Two discs have been spinning in my player this season, both searching for that delicate balance between easy-listening background as the cookies are baking and something with a bit more character and presence.

So the harp is not intended to simply be played by the angel choirs, but somehow its sound, the music, the very beauty of its physical curves, give the harp a mystical and other-worldly quality in nearly every setting—at least from this non-harpist’s point-of-view!

Enter harpist and composer Bernard Andrès, the composer who has captured so many young harpists’ hearts and also invented a new language, a new sound. He embodies the meditative, and though his music is simple in many respects, the emotional charge feels profound and ancient.

Harpist Megan Metheney should be thanked for her juicy addition to the Christmas repertoire—she calls her new album Bernard’s Christmas. Metheney has done something so straightforward and seemingly obvious—perhaps many reading have done this very thing on the fly at one of those endless holiday gigs—combining secular music with familiar sacred pieces and carols. Megan wrote me self-deprecatingly to explain that of course the music is not original, but that likely no one has heard it this way before, that these are simply her musings.

And what musings they are! Each combination—like track three’s “Gabriel’s message” coupled with Andrès’ “Alkermes No. 1”—simply floats out of the other. There is dialogue and the kind of timing one longs for when hearing an artist truly improvise. It’s natural, with breathy pauses and enough space for us to respond to how naturally music from entirely different times and places can speak to one another. There are too many favorites to name, but “A Martine/What Child is This?” haunts, “Promenade/Bensacon Carol” dances, and the final track “Tiento Per Pablo/I Wonder as I Wander” is laden with a hushed expectancy.

Megan uses a lever harp, which has a completely different quality of sound than the other album in this review—the lushly symphonic feel of 4 Girls 4 Harps’ concert grands. The recording is close and intimate, with a brightness that is a signature quality of Celtic music. This is a gorgeous recording—fingers crossed these “musings” are made available as sheet music.