The interweaving harp rhythms on the opening track, ‘Clychau’s Nadolig (Christmas Bells)’ set the mood for this Christmas entertainment from the Welsh group Telyneg. Nadolig Yng Nghymru is a Christmas miscellany of music, poetry and prose performed by virtuoso harpist Robin Huw Bowen, singer and guitarist Heather Jones and actress and broadcaster Eiry Palfrey.
The disc contains harp music and songs sung in both Welsh and English. Maybe it’s a personal prejudice but I have to say that, to my ear, Heather Jones sounds best when singing in Welsh. Two of the highlights of the disk are her unaccompanied singing of ‘Suai’r Gwynt’ and ‘Diniweidrwydd (Innocence)’. Bowen’s music, played on the Welsh triple harp, is uniformly beautiful. In fact, I would have liked to have had far more tracks featuring Bowen. Interspersed between the music, there are short passages of verse and prose read by Palfrey. Some of these work better than others. Harri Webb’s very Welsh take on the nativity story, ‘Never Again’, is a delight. But Joyce Grenfell’s monologue, ‘The Nativity Play’, cries out for Grenfell’s own unmistakably plummy English tones which Eiry Palfrey simply doesn’t capture.
The CD concludes with a curious musical version of Dylan Thomas’ short story, ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’. Thomas’s wonderful yarn is so full of its own internal music that the musical additions seem unnecessary and, frankly, distracting. Everything from Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ to carols such as ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Good King Wenceslas’ are used to decorate this reading. In any case, it has to be said that Palfrey’s narration of the story is adequate at best. It certainly does not rank alongside Thomas’s own reading or the excellent (but hard-to-find) version narrated by Emlyn Williams.
Overall, I have to say that, for me, the CD’s constant mixture of spoken word and music doesn’t work. It’s occasionally entertaining on the first listen. On repeated listens, though, it is irritating. To be positive, Bowen’s harp music is wonderful. I would have been happy to listen to an entire CD of it. The songs are a bit of a mixed bag, with the selection of modern and traditional songs in two languages lacking any real sense of coherence.
I imagine that this eclectic mix of music and narration might work well in a live performance. I’m afraid that, on CD, it is too fragmented to be satisfactory. While there are some good things here, this is not a CD that repays repeated listening.