International Music Series (Celtic Harp) - Savourna Stevenson

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International Music Series (Celtic Harp) - Savourna Stevenson

1 CD(s) - World Music - Label: Cooking Vinyl Records - Distributor: Essential Music/Proper - Released: 31/10/2000 - 711297201826

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Review of "International Music Series (Celtic Harp) - Savourna Stevenson"

published 15/09/2016 | 2mennycds
Member since : 28/08/2015
Reviews : 287
Members who trust : 72
About me :
Best wishes to all, and thanks for your kind rates and comments, have been half-expecting the latest announcement for at least the last year. Have thoroughly enjoyed being a member over the last couple of years or so.
Pro Eclectic, varied tunes and sounds, different but accessible
Cons Eclectic nature may not appeal to more trad "Folk" fans
Quality and consistency of tracks
Cover / Inlay Design and Content
Value for Money

"Celtic harp with Celtic and un-Celtic playing, too"

International Music Series (Celtic Harp) - Savourna Stevenson

International Music Series (Celtic Harp) - Savourna Stevenson


Please note: sadly, but perhaps understandably due to constraints experienced by Ciao, music reviews are not only exempt from Premium Fund/Diamond eligibility, but are also outside the scope of any points awards.

Feel free to rate or not to rate, but any feedback would be welcome as I am writing this purely for my pleasure and for the benefit of interested readers!


When a folk legend (bear in mind that unless you are into this genre you probably won’t have heard of him) like the late, great Dave Swarbrick recommends listening to a certain musician it would be rude – and foolish – to take no notice!

Dave Swarbrick was an awesome fiddle player, probably best known for his playing with folk-rock band Fairport Convention for many years, and has teamed up with the equally legendary folk guitar player and singer Martin Carthy (though he has also played with his own bands).

When I saw him and Martin Carthy perform at a gig, Dave Swarbrick announced a tune by a contemporary harp player, one Savourna Stevenson, and spoke highly of her before playing the tune. “She plays a harp with fifty-eight strings!” he said. “Well, actually, it has ten more strings than that, but I can’t say it!” he added. He had recently had his teeth extracted and was struggling to articulate certain words!

I wasn’t the only one to be intrigued; while waiting for an autograph I heard another member of the audience asking him to repeat the name so that he could check out her material.


“A composer who is a national treasure” (The Herald)

Savourna Stephenson has a classical background but is a particular champion of the “clarsach”, the traditional Scottish (folk) harp. Having said that she is a surprisingly eclectic player and listening to her reveals elements of jazz and world music as much as classical or Scottish folk sounds.

Her tune “Harp Quintet” has (apparently!) featured on the TV shows “Sex And The City” and “Ugly Betty”.

The instrument

“Celtic” harp is quite different from the harp used for classical playing. The latter has pedals to achieve shifts of key; Celtic harp has levers.

The pitch of any string on a stringed instrument (how high or low the note is) is determined by two things; one is the thickness of the string (take a close look at the strings of a bass guitar! The other is the length of the string. When you see a violin or guitar player move the finger that holds down the notes move his or her hand up or down the fingerboard either away or towards the other hand, the length of the string is effectively being altered.

Even a quick glance at a harp shows just what a range of pitches the instrument can play, some strings very short and others very log by comparison. That’s partly what makes it such a rich instrument with high, tinkling strings and deep sonorous ones. The sound is created by the angled side furthest from the player. It is hollow and has a few holes to allow the air to move inside. Like an acoustic guitar, though, these holes don’t create the sound. the sound comes from the way that the “soundboard” resonates. It’s a fine design balance. The soundboard has to be able to take the strain of many tensioned strings (which are often metal) without warping or pulling away from the rest of the instrument. On the other hand, if the hollow soundboard is over-braced the wood can’t vibrate and the tone will suffer.

That’s why wise players of acoustic stringed instruments don’t leave them in the sun or by a radiator. They can half-explode or implode (depending on the design) with disastrous consequences as the wood expands!

The CD

I requested this album as a gift, and slightly regret not having undertaken more research beforehand. It’s a compilation album, and I have mixed feelings about such. This title has the inherent strengths and weaknesses of any compilation. It’s a selection of presumably “best” material gleaned form several releases, and serves as a good introduction. On the other hand it has little by way of accompanying notes, and having a compilation always makes me reluctant to buy the albums from which the tracks were selected due to duplication. I should have learned by now!

Anyway – given what it is, the album is decently presented, and thankfully comes in the durable if less common jewel case.

The style

This is difficult to articulate due to its eclectic nature. Personally I have come to love harp music over recent years. I like its bright yet relaxing sound, and in the hands of a great player it is, frankly, ethereal in my view.

All the tunes on this album were composed by Savourna Stevenson with the exception of track 4 that was co-written with Davy Spillane.

It is entirely instrumental, with no vocals.

The tracks

1 Calman The Dove

I love the solo harp intro but soon after a low whistle (by Davy Spillane) plays over the top, then fiddle (Anne Wood). The tune is slow, haunting, and engaging, and I feel that the other instruments add nice texture and counter-harmony to the harp.

2 An Buachaille

To me this is one of the highlights of the album. It reminds me of the sound of an African kora with its quick-fire strings of descending notes played against the main tune. It has a medium tempo and, to me, a real upbeat sound. Although the harp plays this solo there is more than enough by way of variation and technique to maintain interest. Fabulous!

4 Mesmerising Nessy

Uileann (Irish) pipes by Davy Spillane join the harp and fiddle on this tune that Spillane co-wrote. I like the fiddle on this: some very sweet and evocative notes, and some slightly more strident ones. It’s another medium tempo piece and the harp comes to the fore at times and plays in the background at others, adding a varied sound to the tune.

5 Fording The Tweed

A most unusual, almost guitar-like sound punctuates this tune. It sounds for all the world like a guitar being strummed, and I don’t know whether Savourna does strum it or whether she creates the staccato chord by plucking several harp strings at once. Either way, after saounding the chord she deadens teh sound to give a punchy effect.

The tune seems to go on quite an improvised journey like that of a jazz player, but there’s a definite groove and beat to it. It’s a bit like fingerstyle guitar playing with single notes rippling over the “strum-like” sound or over the lower notes as they are plucked. Quite remarkable, but a great listen in its own right too, and it certainly provides some variation on the album!

6 Dawn

A gentler tempo and evocative tune, a delight, with some nice variations that maintain my interest right the way through. It’s played just with harp and double bass.

8 Water

No pun intended, this is a lovely piece where the notes almost literally ripple along. The great double-bass player Danny Thompson adds what I consider some funky and fascinating playing in the background.

10 Emily’s calling

Another piece that, to me, evokes something of the sound of an African kora. This is my favourite tune and sustains my delight throughout its 5:21 duration. The basic tune is very melodic, but embellished masterfully to produce some most un-harplike sounds! It was written as an evocation of her daughter.

11 Sith As A Ghaillionn (Peace From The Storm)

Uileann pipes, fiddle and low whistle join the harp on this fine tune, creating a lovely blend of sound.

Concluding remarks==

A couple of tracks on this album really blow me away. I very much like most of the others, though a couple I can take or leave. To be fair, though, it’s pretty rare to find an album where every track is mind-blowingly good and/or has no tracks that I’m not keen on. It’s a very subjective thing.

I rate this 4 stars.

Buy it if you want something different that will alternately relax and stir you, or if you have never tried listening to harp music. It isn’t as crusty as it may sound – certainly not when played by Savourna Stevenson, anyway, and as mentioned, this album (and player) has quite a mix of sounds and styles beyond what most people would associate with “Celtic harp”.

If you are more of a folk fan you may prefer something less ecelctic in style – it’s all a horses for courses matter.

Amazon are offering this (new hard copy) for £3.98, their Marketplace suppliers from £2.46 new. offer a number of her albums, but not this one, and surprisingly (and disappointingly, given that she is a Scottish musician!) folk music specialist aren’t offering any of her titles at the moment.

I have another Savourna album – “Touch Me Like The Sun” – that I might review (if you don’t mind my harping on too much!), that perhaps offers slightly more variety than this one, but “Celtic Harp” is a good starting point for this musician.

Savourna Stevenson has her own website:

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Comments on this review

  • IzzyS published 15/03/2017
    Well reviewed.
  • CelticSoulSister published 22/09/2016
  • stacey2911 published 22/09/2016
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Product Information : International Music Series (Celtic Harp) - Savourna Stevenson

Manufacturer's product description

1 CD(s) - World Music - Label: Cooking Vinyl Records - Distributor: Essential Music/Proper - Released: 31/10/2000 - 711297201826

Product Details

EAN: 711297201826


Listed on Ciao since: 13/01/2006