Beautiful music from a beautiful instrument



Gulnara Mashurova (harp)

Victoria Concert Hall


The word beauty is over-used when it comes to classical music. So much music is far more complex and challenging than merely beautiful. But if one instrument can honestly be described as unblemished beauty, that instrument is the harp.

And it seemed especially beautiful when played with such grace, elegance and sensitivity as Gulnara Mashurova brought to her performances in this concert.

This was an afternoon of beautiful things. The harp sounded beautiful and the instrument, lit from above, looked beautiful on the stage of Singapore's beautiful Victoria Concert Hall, Mashurova, shimmering in sequins, was the personification of beauty and the music paraded its beauty for all to enjoy.

Whether in the neatly organised Handel Concerto or in the luxuriant harmonies and shimmering tones of Debussy's Danse Sacree Et Danse Profane, there was nothing here which marred the overriding sense of loveliness.

The Handel Concerto for harp has a fascinating and surprising history - which the booklet notes sadly ignored - and while it is a very beautiful work indeed, Mashurova performed a version by the great French/American harpist, Marcel Grandjany, which added even more layers of beauty. All with no loss of the charm of Handel's original.

For the Concerto as well as for one of Grandjany's best-known original works, the Aria In The Classic Style, and the Debussy Danses, Mashurova was joined by a small group of string players. They perhaps had not spent much time playing as an ensemble and, on a purely technical level, this was neither particularly polished nor clean, and the Debussy unfortunately got off to a false start.

But the abiding impression was of their utter dedication to creating a beautiful sound. What it lacked in technical security it more than made up for in beauty of sound and a real feeling of collective enjoyment.

On stage alone, Mashurova performed two enchanting solo works. The Nocturne by the 19th-century Belgian harpist and composer, Alphonse Hasselmans, was, as the name suggests, an atmospheric mood piece which flowed gently and with an endearing feeling of tranquility.

The other was somewhat more strange. Born in the south west of England and given the name Eli Parish, the composer moved to London where, after an encounter with a harpist of dubious morals in the dark streets of Soho, he changed his name to Elias Parish Alvars.

Murky and complicated as his life was, his Introduction, Cadenza And Rondo for solo harp, written in 1838, was anything but. Charming and uneventful, it flowed from Mashurova's harp with innocent ease and good humour.

Beautiful music, beautifully played from a beautiful instrument.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2016, with the headline 'Beautiful music from a beautiful instrument'. Print Edition | Subscribe