Review: Mary Lattimore – The Withdrawing Room

The harp may have an inseparable synonymity with peace and beauty, but not in the form exhibited here. Often we hear the instrument played with a ballerina-esque precision; grace as a result of ruthless calculation, and the sonic manifestation of a quest for pure, teardrop-shaped tone; glossed to a point at which human involvement is no longer audible, and the nails that pluck the strings feel as though they’ve been carved out of immaculate pearl. Arpeggiation occurs with a lifeless inevitability, fluttering past the strings with a mindless disregard for the friction that is taking place: that ungainly, momentarily stall in motion from which sound clambers triumphantly out of vibration.

Yet the harp playing of Mary Lattimore glimmers with an unpredictability and constant discovery, as if changing shape and purpose within her hands. Strings are bent until notes swerve off course, or twanged so that they growl aggressively and rattle on the frame. Effects send the voice of the harp toppling into itself as bubbling little delays, or burying itself in the muffle of equalisation adjustment. She toys with typically serene harp melodies – swooping and slowing like indulgent birdsong – and thrusts them into a context that renders them either terrifying or imperfectly beautiful, taking awkward steps into a swamp of night-time ambience or clamorous futuristic cityspace, dipping beneath the din of flying cars on “You’ll Be Fiiinnne”.

“Pluto The Planet” sends each note dancing delicately into the next, creating a perpetual whirlpool of major key. It’s here the Lattimore’s playing is most tranquil, conjuring the image of equidistant ripples zipping inexorably across mirror-surfaced lakes, glinting with light shades of far-Eastern meditation. Yet never does she sound wholly entwined with her instrument. The Withdrawing Room is most captivating for the fact that the harp always sounds just beyond the realm of absolute understanding; the moment of total Zen is held out of reach, causing Lattimore to itch with a curiosity that consistently questions and re-evaluates her elusive friend.