JUST three musicians featured in this Edinburgh International Harp Festival Concert, but between them they encompassed a wonderfully wide world of music, teeming with both virtuoso technique and captivating musicality.

Catriona McKay and Olov Johansson/Sixto Corbalán - Merchiston Castle School, edinburgh


A proud aspect of the Harp Festival’s 32-year history is its long track record of showcasing Paraguayan artists, enabling that country’s distinctively rich national tradition – developed by local musicians from the instruments that accompanied Jesuit missionaries there in the 17th and 18th centuries – to feed fruitfully into Scotland’s recent leaps-and-bounds harp revival.

Interestingly, in contrast to their Celtic counterparts, some 90 percent of Paraguayan harpists are men, but this year’s festival ambassador Sixto Corbalán (performing in front of Paraguay’s actual UK ambassador, who’d flown up especially from London) proved he could do sublimely delicate and ethereal with the best of them – as he could just about everything else, it seemed, in terms of conjuring magic from plucked strings.

His mix of folk-based material, national repertoire classics and contemporary compositions, some original, took in a thrilling sweep of dynamic, textural and emotional contrasts, from bare-knuckle bassy attack to exquisitely pretty playfulness, tangy jazz tones to country-blues licks, clamorous drama to shimmering serenity: his standing ovation was thoroughly earned.

The Scottish/Swedish duo of harpist Catriona McKay and nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle) maestro Olov Johansson thus had a hard act to follow, but sounded just as inspired as the rest of us by Corbalán’s set – plus their collaboration is likewise self-evidently a labour of love in the first place, as shone resplendently through their astoundingly intricate, melodically gorgeous tapestries of tradition and modernity.

2014, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday 

© Catriona McKay 2015