What attracts a musician to an exotic instrument like the harp, rather than the piano? If we may summarise the booklet interview (conducted by fibonacci sequence “boss” Kathron Sturrock) with Gillian Tingay here, it is the sudden realisation that you have to go your own way, instead of imitating the “safe” paths of others: “I started playing the piano but it never felt like it was right for me in the way the harp did (...) I somehow connected the harp with ballet, which I loved, and a kind of romantic imaginary world.” And for the duration of this disc, it is this world where she is taking us.
We therefore have to see the album as a testimony to her relationship with her instrument and everything that comes with that: Playing in an accompanying function more than once, returning to the same core pieces of the repertoire again and again, having to live with the fact that few contemporary composers have written for the harp or ever will. But, and this may come as a surprise to many, Tingay does not sound disappointed one bit. Her stance is practical, not defeatist: “This really is what chamber music is about for me”, she exclaims when talking about Dussek’s “Sonata in E flat”, possibly the most obviously “classical” piece collected on the CD, “being with a group of musicians playing music that is beautiful and inspiring – it isn’t important if the harp is in the big solo position or not...” Compare it to Jazz, if you like – noone thought it strange that the “Art Blakey” ensemble was named after its drummer, after all. And Tingay’s role here resembles that of Blakey’s in many respects: It is her who chooses the repertoire, who sets the tone for the interpretation and sparks the interaction. Even in the more group-based efforts, she manages to shine through and her playing is equally engaged in her solos and her supportive functions. The excitment for the big moments each harpists aspires to is traceable in her rendition of the eternal classic “Introduction and Allegro” by Ravel (played almost like a music box or the soundtrack to the fairy tales she used to love so much in her early youth) and the “tingle music" of the Saint-Saens-Fantaisie: For almost ten minutes, the harp and the violin entangle themselves in their webs, talking to each other sweetly, before a hypnotic ground bass announces the grand finale, spiralling higher and higher towards the sky.
Of course, there are no “exotic” instruments, merely popular choices and less popular ones. The question of why someone would want to take up the harp and not the piano is the same as why anyone would want to start an internet magazine on classical and contemporary music instead of taking a job as an accountant. And yet, in lack of information, it is important and tremendously satisfying to have someone explain their choice in the face of a world who finds this hard to understand. And that is exactly what Gillian Tingay is doing here – both in her personal booklet texts, as in her playing.