Asni the Harper in concert - reviews

Martha Harich, Februay 2003 - publication?? (performance at Peterskirche Dornberg, near Bielefeld, Germany)


Bielefeld. What is pop music? In any case it is not just a 20th century phenomenon – this was made audible in an impressive manner in a concert with Astrid Nielsch on Sunday. The musician from Berlin played popular music from seven centuries on medieval and baroque harps – music from the baroque period and songs from musicals, Spanish dances from the 17th century and medieval music. A programme that suited the location, the medieval Peterskirch, extremely well.

What is regarded as classical music today, was popular music in its own time – this is especially true for the harp. Melodies that the birds sang from the rooftops, found their way into printed sheet music for this instrument. Other parts of her programm were Astrid Nielsch’s own arrangements: Music taken from film scores, for example, which she weaved into medleys together with baroque dance pieces and improvised interludes. It was surprizing, how similar a song from “Anatevka” and motives from the early baroque collection “Luz y Norte” turn out to be!

Ideal acoustics in the Peterskirche

With respect to harmonic language, however, the baroque pieces were the more surprizing. But who knows? Maybe the things we regard today as particularly artistic, were just the common musical formulations of their own day.

Once more the wonderful, sustaining acoustics of the Peterskirche proved ideal for a soft solo instrument. Besides the baroque harp with its warm sound, in amongst the stylistic medleys Astrid Nielsch played melodies from the 12th and 14th century on a medieval harp. This instrument is less than a meter in heigh and has a softer, but at the same time almost metallic sound. Listening to a French lovesong from the times of Richard the Lionheart, or an English melody the imitates the voices of birds, one fancies oneself in a different world. Especially in a church building, whose origins reach back to the 8th century, the music of the Middle Ages unfolds its own very special tension and incredible charm.

Of course this requires a musician like Astrid Nielsch, who is able to sing out each part individually, up into the (almost) inaudible, in complex polyphony like, for instance, a Chaconne by Handel. The specialist on historical harps, and graduated musicologist, also showed a light touch in her moderation. Competent, but without a scholarly attitude, shetook her public on a stroll through a few centuries of music history, and evidently enjoyed both the music making and her discoveries. For instance that of the Irish bard Turlough O’Carolan, who wrote a sort of highly complex folk music in the late baroque period, strangely untouched by musical developments on the European continent.

The audience in the sold-out Peterskirche listened to all that with increasing enthusiasm and had a special surprise in the end, when the artist pulled out a forgotten song by the Beatles (from their Hamburg period) as an encore: “Cry for a shadow”. Perhaps the song will become a hit posthumously, in its harp version!

Ralph Ziegler, Gelnhauser Tageblatt, 4 February 1993

Plenty of space for emotions: Astrid Nielsch charmed with her harp at the Lutheran church

Wächtersbach. The music lover knows harps almost exclusively in the context of Symphony concerts. The harp as an instrument for more intimate music has been almost forgotten, despite its great past – partly, one must assume, because of the prohobiting dimensions of the modern instrument.

With her lively, emotional playing on the baroque harp at the Lutheran church, Astrid Nielsch gave a pledoyer for her instrument that many listeners will remember for a long while as a concert of fragile, intimate aura and impressive depth. The musican from Bremen, a student of the baroque harp after taking her degree on the modern instrument, commits herself to the calm that unites her homogenously with her instrument.

Clear structuring of the dynamics and structure-conscientous shaping of the pieces, which have mostly been taken from lute or keyboard literature, combine in a well-rounded presentation. The early Italian pieces of the first half, as the art music of their time, demand, most of all, a good technique (Cesare Negris “Dance scene for four shepherds and for nymphs” was particularly impressive). The second half, consisting of English songs, gave broad room to feeling. Astrid Nielsch, who led through the programme in a sympathetic, natural manner, played living melodic frases and chose highly appropriate tempi. Robert de Visées suite in d minor is an almost balladesque, stately courtly piece from the court of Louis XIV; the filigrane music was re-shaped with appropriate sensibility. After the somewhat wooden interpretation of Bach’s C major prelude from the “Well-Tempered Clavier”, the concert finished with a 2 minute original harp piece, the “symphony” from Handel’s oratorio “Saul” – music that can not be played on other instruments, but is especially tailored to the harp.

The same is true of the five pieces from the anonymous collection “Musicalische Rüst-Kammer, somewhat baroque-folky with their rhythmical swing. The swinging Bourre was a fitting ending after the mostly meditative character of the evening, which brought, without reservations, a truly fascinating concert.

Michael Beughold, Neue Westfälische, 27 January 1998 – concert by duo "Rent a Nightingale

"The English section put the harp into the spotlight: Audibly attuned to the pub, when it provides the ground to ostinato variations on Scottish mentality, in a piece by Nicola Mattei. And full of wondrous tonal richness in Henry Purcell's chaconne in F major, and the following "Evening hymn". "Most beautiful, equal musicianship was established in the Italian section… but how much more tenderly, amorous and playful does the French nightingale sound! At least in the Air en Chaconne by Bousset/Hotteterre, which crowned the truly bucolic dance scenario of harping grace and recorder delicatesse, proided by the two musicians. Enthusiastic applause and an encore were matters of course."

Borkumer Zeitung, 23 June 1995

„The two young artists, Urte Lukait (Viola da Gamba) and Astrid Nielsch (baroque harp), who have commited themselves to the revival of historically correct performance practice with heart and brain, devoted themselves with equal strength to their self-set task, to make the ordinary of yesterday into the very special of today"…

" Not only the perfect way in which the early instruments and the early repertory were handled, constituted the charm of this recital: even more so did the fine-tuned interpretation, the gorgeous instrumental monologues and dialogues and the calibration used to vary the rare sound colors, and to find a very individual voice. The audience enjoyed the exemplary, mature interpretation, which was characterised by a pleasing musical freshness. Entirely without frills, disciplined and concentrated on their playing, the duo was equally competent in leading the audience into the expressive realms of long lost times."…

"The instrumental brillance of the harp, played with precision and individuality, gave witness to excellent professionalism and a high level of musicality."

Hessisch-Niedersächsiche Allgemeine; 22 November 1994

Competence for the baroque harp

…."The concert series at the Klosterkirche Nordshausen, time and again, offer musical quality, but also recitals that are of special interest thematically"…"With the 'Brandi' (a dance form) by Negri the charm of the historical harp sound became particularly evident: the melos of sustained, fragrant echo along with the soft interlacing of soundscapes."

December 1992, Oberhofenkirche Göppingen, with Anne Lambrecht (soprano) und Claas Berend Harders (viola da gamba)

„A galliard by John Dowland gave Astrid Nielsch the opportunity to paint fragile musical contours in a dance-like, swinging framework, with the sounds of the baroque harp. In this she succeeded convincingly, both in the Dowland piece and the three dances by Robert de Visée, whose rhythmical diversity concluded the second part of the concert."