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Harp Consort Celebrates the Bawdy Beauty of Irish Music

March 25, 1997|JOSEF WOODARD

The Harp Consort is a band of antiquarians with gusto and a mission: to bring music of long ago into the here and now.

The musical subject Sunday afternoon at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall was "Carolan's Harp," selected pieces by the blind 17th century Irish harpist and composer Turlough O'Carolan.

Founded in 1994 and led by nimble Irish harpist and psaltery player Andrew Lawrence-King, the Harp Consort attends to its musical duties with no small measure of early music scholarship and seriousness. But the effect is sensuous and sometimes even bawdy.

In this group's hands, O'Carolan's music emerged with its Irish heart intact, made up of both exquisite melancholy and infectious revelry, with laments abutting drinking songs without skipping a beat.

Fine string players make up the group's core; in addition to Lawrence-King, they include Paul O'Dette, mainly on the peculiarly shaped lute called the theorbo, with its bass strings extending twice as long as the regular fretted strings, and David Douglass on baroque violin. Nancy Hadden played flute and recorder and Pedro Estevan was on percussion.

Steve Player, when not attending to instrumental duties on baroque guitar and bagpipes, was the comic and kinetic relief, a cut-up who goaded the audience by dancing down the aisles and passing his three-cornered hat for tips.

Vocalist Caitriona O'Leary, dressed in a long maroon dress like an extension of the stage curtains, offered lovely, controlled phrases both in English and in the exotic lilt of Gaelic.

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