Music of Barbara Harbach, Vol. 9: Orchestral Music II – Symphonies, Soundings & Celebrations [Night Soundings; Gateway Festival Sym.; A State Divided – A Missouri Symphony; Jubilee Sym.] – London Philharmonic Orch. /David Angus – MSR Classics

by | Dec 12, 2015 | Classical CD Reviews

Music of Barbara Harbach, V0l. 9: Orchestral Music II – Symphonies, Soundings & Celebrations [Night Soundings; Gateway Festival Symphony; A State Divided – A Missouri Symphony; Jubilee Symphony] – London Philharmonic Orch. /David Angus – MSR Classics CD MS1519 (5/22/14), 61:03  [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Composer Barbara Harbach passed me by somehow. The CD under review is volume 9 in  a series of her compositions from MSR Classics. If this disc is a good indicator, I would probably really enjoy hearing more of her music.

Dr. Harbach is Professor of Music at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, with a large catalog of works, including; symphonies, operas, string orchestra, musicals, works for chamber ensembles, film scores, modern ballet, pieces for organ, harpsichord and piano; choral anthems; and many arrangements for brass and organ of various Baroque works. She also has recorded many CDs of both harpsichord and organ. This disc contains four orchestral works, some tied thematically to her residence in Missouri. Having grown up around St. Louis, I found that of more than passing interest.

The first work, Night Soundings, is a somewhat mystical work, describing the zone between light and darkness. The last movement is called Midnight Tango, and has a South American motif.

Next is the Gateway Festival Symphony, a work that premiered in 2013. I would describe it as a three movement tone poem describing scenes around Missouri, such as the meeting of the great rivers near St. Louis.

It’s followed by A State Divided- A Missouri Symphony, reflecting the tension that resulted from part of the state being allied with the north, and southern Missouri being part of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The CD closes with Jubilee Symphony, which pays tribute to the founding of the University of Missouri.

All these works are noteworthy, and well played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of David Angus. I like Harbach’s musical style and inventiveness. She has a sound all her own, she’s not doing a reduction of Copland or Ives.

Recording-wise, this stereo disc sounds just fine. It’s very natural, separations are sharp, but not overblown. Strings are very smooth. A high resolution option would be nice, but the CD sounds excellent.  It was recorded in Henry Wood Hall in London, an acoustic space I’m familiar with and I’ve heard multiple live performances there. The sound is well-captured.

I’ll have to explore more of Ms. Harbach’s compositions, and I’m always happy to discover a previously unheard talent.

—Mel Martin

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