Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line




Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Brilliant Classics

Collection "The Romantic Harp"
CD 1
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 - 1921)

The Swan, from "Carnaval des Animaux"
Morceau de concert

Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 - 1880)

Barcarolle

Robert SCHUMANN (1810 - 1856)

Träumerei

August DURAND (1830 - 1909)

Chaconne

Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743 - 1805)

Menuet

Anon.

Sakura, Sakura [a Japanese folksong]

Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897)

Waltz in A flat major

Johann STRAUSS (1825 - 1899)

Pizzicato Polka

Isaac ALBENIZ (1860 - 1909)

Granada
Malagueña No. 1
Malagueña No. 2

Edvard GRIEG (1843 - 1907)

Anitraís Dance, from "Peer Gynt"

Frigyes HIDAS (1928 -)

Hungarian Folksongs

Enrique GRANADOS (1867 - 1916)

Danza Española No. 5

New York Harp Ensemble
Aristid von Würtzler (director and soloist)
CD 2
Marcel GRANDJANY (1891 - 1975)

Rhapsodie

Germaine TAILLEFERRE (1892 - 1983)

Sonate

Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 - 1924)

Une Chatelaine en sa Tour
Après une Rêve

Albert ROUSSEL (1869 - 1937)

Impromptu

Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863 - 1937)

Impromptu caprice

Claude DEBUSSY (1862 - 1918)

Clair de Lune

Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903 - 1978)

Oriental Dance
Toccata

Jean-Michel DAMASE (1928 -)

Sicilienne variée

Carlos SALZÉDO (1885 - 1961)

Variations sur un Thème dans le Style Ancien

Ieuan Jones (harp)
licensed from Hungaroton (CD 1) and ASV (CD 2)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 5425 [2 CDs: 117'54]


Spending eternity sitting on a fluffy, pink cloud, dressed in only a pure white nightie, and playing on a harp is not my idea of "heaven", either with or without a capital "H"! Donít get me wrong: as far as I am concerned the harp is the most sumptuous-sounding instrument ever to grace a concert platform, and so often the lynch-pin of all the glow and glitter of our most colourful music. Yet, the prospect of listening to nigh on two whole hours of wall-to-wall harping fills me with foreboding: what if some misguided Superior Being should slightly misinterpret my purpose - as some sort of wishful thinking? Not that Iím superstitious, you understand, but perhaps the caveat to resist swallowing the whole recording in one gulp should, in this particular case, be taken rather more seriously than usual.

Anyway, what have we here? One hefty, old-fashioned double-CD case bearing a rose-tinted illustration that overlays a picture of a harp (so far, so good) on one of a well made-up, pretty, and wistful-looking wench doing her level best to project the "Romantic" bit of the productionís title. To an old cynic like me, her level best adds up to something between "soppy" and just plain "bored". Iím starting to get this nagging feeling that this is one of those "themed" issues, packed with designer classics to grace the designer wallpaper at your average designer dinner-party.

Not to worry, after all this is a Brilliant Classics production. Mindful of the exemplary presentation of their superb Shostakovich Symphonies set, I excitedly ripped off (insofar as this confounded material will permit) the shrink-wrapping to see what erudition the booklet offered. Ah! Problem. No booklet. Not even a thin, inadequate one! I wonder, what is the point of a hefty, old-fashioned double-CD case if not to make room for a hefty, old-fashioned informative booklet? Our enlightenment regarding the contents depends entirely on the track listings on the back U-card.

With growing trepidation, I turned over the box and . . . yes (phew!) there is a listing. Is it time to dance in the street? No, not quite. Sure enough, each pieceís composer, title, and running time are given, but there is vital information conspicuous by its absence. It is glaringly obvious that many of the pieces must be arrangements - Brahms, for example, was hardly renowned for his equali for harps - but arrangers are not credited. Yet, daft as it might seem, we know even less about the more unfamiliar pieces, as we canít even be sure whether they are "originals" or "arrangements". For example, just because Salzedo and Grandjany were themselves harpists does not guarantee that their works presented here were written for the harp, does it? Anyway, look after that U-card, itís the only reference to the contents - the CDs themselves, which for reasons that elude me are not rose-tinted but a fairly yucky yellow (a mustardy colour more readily associated with retching than romance), carry what must be counted as the absolute minimum of information.

It doesnít sound very promising thus far, does it? Never mind, hope springs eternal in the breast of the eternal optimist, so letís consider those all-important contents. At this point, things start to buck up - the sound quality is excellent. On CD1, the ensemble of what seems like four harps (aye, youíre right, we arenít even told how many!) is spread across the foreground, quite closely "miked" in the intimate manner of a string quartet, but with of plenty of resonant space behind. This gives an overall cosy bloom to the sound that nevertheless avoids blunting the razor-sharp edges of the upper end of the harpís range. A similar tale can be told of CD2, except that here we have just the one harp, and a smidgin of residual background hiss that betrays the recordingís analogue origins (no, there are no recording dates, either!).

Some of the obvious arrangements are more successful than others. Of course, this conclusion depends rather heavily on the criteria by which you measure "success". In my book, the only thing that matters is not how close to the original the arrangement comes, but how convincing the music sounds as a work for harp(s). To filch a fashionable bit of business-speak, one of the "key success factors" relates to the harpís sustaining power which, in its middle and upper registers, hardly rivals a spinet let alone a concert grand. Needless to say, when the harp is compared with wind instruments and (especially) bowed strings there is, in this respect, no contest! A literal transcription for harp of an original work that is (a) slow, and (b) sparsely populated note-wise will, to say the least, sound a mite disjointed.

So it is with, the first three tracks of CD1. The ponderous plodding of Saint-Saënsís The Swan, Offenbachís Barcarolle, and Schumannís Träumerei has much less to do with the performances than it does with the arrangements, which I feel just do not work. The same is true of the Brahms Waltz in A flat, which would have been "B flat" were it not for some sensitive tempo tweakings by the NY Harp Ensemble. Ieuan Jones on CD2 has the same problem with the Khachaturian Oriental Dance, which I presume is an arrangement - Iím not familiar with this tune, and equally unaware of any inclination towards solo harp works on the part of Khachaturian. Not that it matters, either way itís as dull as ditchwater, and thereís nothing that Jones can do about that.

That, you will be relieved to hear, is just about all the bad news! After those first three dull items on CD1, Auguste Durandís Chaconne comes as a real breath of fresh air, a thoroughly charming little piece that has everything the former pieces lacked. Itís much livelier and more mobile, the rollicking little tune bristling with busy baroque scurryings, leaving no room for boredom to fill. It must be catching, because the subsequent arrangement of Boccheriniís famous String Quintet Minuet movement is similarly full of life, the amiable tune rolling deliciously off the harpsí strings as if to the manner born.

The Japanese folksong makes a terrific novelty item, with added percussion and some brilliant koto imitations. Hardly surprisingly, Straussís Pizzicato Polka is a "natural" that works a real treat, coming across as just that bit more golden than orchestral strings. On the other hand, Anitraís Dance by Grieg is a surprise, and a really pleasant one at that, full of bounce and with lashings of well-judged variations of attack. And so it goes on: if Hidasís Hungarian Folksongs are nothing like Bartók, they combine jollity and a degree of idiomatic sonority, whilst the Spanish arrangements perhaps owe something to the affinity between harp and guitar (yes, I know these were originally piano works, but Iím referring to the guitar sounds implied by the pianistic style!). The Granados item is particularly successful, featuring a gorgeous, whirring rhythm reminiscent of a passage in Rodrigoís Fantasia para un Gentilhombre. For some peculiar reason, the NY Harp Ensembleís recital ends with the two Albeniz Malagueñas, which are both for solo harp! Ah, well, I suppose it links nicely to CD2, doesnít it?

Charmingly as the NY folk played, they have to yield to the stunning virtuosity of Ieuan Jones. With a name like that, Iíll just bet that heís Welsh, and boy can this boyo play! At least part of this impression must be down to his choice of music. Apart from the aforementioned Oriental Dance, everything is generally much more up the harpís street. For example, several of the pieces make use of what I noted down as a Rachmaninov-style "left hand", one that is always busy joining up the dots, most notably in the opening Grandjany piece and in Fauréís Une Chatelaine, which have a liquidity that is missing in those prosaic arrangements on CD1. Jones, however, is always going that bit further, in his mixing of attack, variations of texture, and sensitivity to the musicís dynamic shading.

I could waffle on for ages (OK, I have waffled on for ages!) about the felicities in Jonesí playing, but Iíll restrain myself to some highlights. Try Tailleferreís tangy Sonate (the U-card helpfully lists the three movements as "First Movement", "Second Movement", and "Third Movement") for a bit of French "sass", or Fauréís Après une Rève for a distinct feeling of singer and guitar, or the Damase item to discover just how many notes can be spun around a simple tune, or Debussyís Claire de Lune as an example of how to "work" a slow piece, or the comparatively formidable Roussel Impromptu for something to spoil the designer wallpaper. Most of all, donít miss the closing Salzedo Variations - after a somewhat Handelian prelude, this builds up into a showpiece par excellence, the harpistís answer to Paganiniís diabolical violin!

To sum up: package - nul points; documentation - as near as dammit to nul points; recordings - more than acceptable; content - variable, but a lot more worth hearing than not; performances - never less than good, frequently enchanting, and occasionally "totally gob-smacking"! If I admit that quite a lot of this would serve as "designer classics" (etc.). Iíd also have to say that it would also be a waste of quite a lot of thoroughly rewarding listening. Try it, itíll be worth the Brilliant Classics price just for that incredible piece of Salzedo.

Paul Serotsky



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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