Elizabeth Hainen in Harp Concertos = ALVARS: Harp Concerto in G Minor, Op. 81; ALBRECHTSBERGER: Harp Concerto in C Major; SAINT-SAENS: Morceau de Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, Op. 154 – Elizabeth Hainen, harp/ Bulgarian National Radio Orchestra/Rossen Milanov – Avie AV 2221, 68:05 [Distr. By Allegro] ****:
The surprise piece on this disc (rec. 10-12 June 2007)–the 1842 Concerto in G Minor by Elias Parish Alvars (1808-1849)–demonstrates the creative ability of a virtuoso whom Berlioz dubbed “the Liszt of the harp. . .a magician. . .and [the harp in his hands] is a siren. . .stirred by his passionate embrace to utter the music of another world.” The concerto exploits all the special effects of the instrument: harmonics, glissandi, bisbigliandi, and all sorts of strummed and plucked effects. The layout of the first movement–including its melodic contour–in several ways echoes the E Minor Concerto of Frederic Chopin, the roulades and flourishes almost a transposition of keyboard figurations in the guise of harp fioritura. The delicately sheer Romanza: Andante might serve for the Balcony Scene of Romeo and Juliet or a particularly tender moment between Antony and Cleopatra. A long cavatina over held string chords, the movement weaves a lovely mesh of romantic conceits in the form of a nocturne in which a flute clearly provides bird calls. The expansive last movement Rondeau: Allegro agitato conveys an outdoors, Basque sensibility, a sweetly tame Mediterranean rhetoric that once or twice echoes Paganini‘s La Campanella. The clear enunciation of phrases by the harp over gypsy rhythms reminds us of how much of the lute tablature invested itself into the Romantic harp repertory. The lovely cadenza halfway through the finale is by Bernard Galais.
The 1773 Concerto in C by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736-1809) proves a thoroughly idiomatic, ingratiating work for the instrument, although his first instrument of choice was the organ. Those interested in Viennese musical pedagogy know Albrechtsberger had as composition students younger men by the names of Schubert and Beethoven. Composed for the single-action version of the harp, the piece rarely ventures into harmonically audacious realms, but its flurry of arpeggios, trills, and brilliant runs makes it a coloratura vehicle of innate charm. The Adagio’s expressiveness might owe a debt to C.P.E. Bach, but the low part seems a conservative application of the Alberti bass principle in galant style. The final Allegro serves some jaunty figures that nod to Haydn’s hunting sensibilities. Happy and aerial runs and dotted figures alternate in easy harmony.
The third of his three Concert-Pieces, the 1919 Morceau de Concert for Harp and Orchestra by Saint-Saens (1835-1921) was conceived for French virtuoso Nicole Anckler. In six sections conceived as one continuous movement, the piece exploits the usual barrage of harp effects but also revels in soft dynamics. Often, the solo runs remind us of ballet episodes from Tchaikovsky or Massenet. The use of a pentatonic scale–a typical Saint-Saens calling card–reminds of that “Moorish” influence in his idea of Africa or exotic places. After an extended harp trill, a dark hush gradually ascends to the kind of light fleet virtuosity we know as the Saint-Saens trademark. An ostinato martial figure has the harp sing above it while woodwinds and strings interweave in rhythmically buoyant gestures of Spanish cast. The last section employ another Saint-Saens ploy, the chorale-tune, of which he remains a past master. The entire production has class and great aural resonance, a real delight to add to an otherwise neglected body of music.
[And I must say, if classical labels are going to play up the sexiness of the female soloist on the covers and note booklet, Avie has it exactly right – gorgeous without being embarrassing or inappropriate….Ed.]