… a true joy to listen to.
Claire Jones, harp. Silva Screen Records, 2016.
Royal Harpist. That might just sound like a marketing gimmick, but not for Claire Jones. She truly earned the appellation as the official harpist to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. And when she provided the heavenly soundtrack for William and Kate’s nuptials, her career naturally took off—actually, “skyrocketed” would be the more apt description.
But this spectacular opportunity had a downside. The thousands of media interviews and nearly non-stop touring the world took their toll on Ms. Jones, literally wearing out her body. Physically drained while suffering debilitating migraines, her body said no more and a seizure landed her in the hospital with a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. Now, fully recovered, she says her new recording Royal Harp Strings is the soundtrack of her healing.
It’s a collection of light pieces, both familiar and new, including several by her husband Chris Marshall that left me—someone not particularly in any need of healing—uplifted and nurtured.
Mr. Marshall’s arrangement of the traditional song “Scarborough Fair” is notably poignant for its darker, insistent drive that verges on menacing. There is a sense that Ms. Jones is reaching out for answers to her predicament, and it will be the strings themselves, stunningly played by members of the London Mozart Players and the English Chamber Orchestra, who will buoy her, ultimately leading to triumph, strength, and independence. A deftly sneaked in drum, coming from behind like a runner at a race we all thought she’d lose, provided the powerful and determined clockwork rhythm.
Next on the album is my favorite, a mixed meter and funky “All Through the Night,” as carefree as a barefoot leap through the lawn’s sprinkler on a lazy summer day. Mr. Marshall has two original works on the disc, “Heartstrings” and a very personal “Bluestone” based on the place in Wales where Ms. Jones grew up. Bluestone comes from the Preseli Mountains and, according to folklore, contain healing properties, the natural world fitting neatly in with Ms. Jones’ own quest to share not just her performing and harp music, but her total life experience.
Three tenderly arranged opera arias leave you to wonder if Puccini, Dvorak, and Delibes had the harp in mind as their main characters all along. I find “Song to the Moon” the most successful, its nocturnal and dreamy atmosphere beautifully preserved in arrangement.
The album is wrapped up in a bow with John Lunn’s roiling theme for the PBS hit show Downton Abbey. While not a heavy-hitter as far as repertoire, this CD is beautifully played and a true joy to listen to.