> Italian Harp Music [PJL]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Italian Harp Music
Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832)
Andante and variations [5.09]
Giovanni Battista VIOTTI (1755-1824)
Sonata for Harp [16.42]
Francesco POLLINI (1762-1843)
Capriccio and aria with variations [11.26]
Theme and variations [6.03]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Allegretto [1.12]
Sonata for Harp [2.26]
Andante and variations for Violin* and Harp [4.35]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Sonata for Violin* and Harp [3.50]
Nicolas Charles BOCHSA (1789-1856)
Fantasia on Bellini’s ‘I Capuleti e Montecchi’ [5.24]
Marianna CRETI DE ROCCHIS (1822?-1890?)
Fantasia on Bellini’s ‘Casta Diva’ [8.56]
Claudia Antonelli (harp), with *Alberto Ambrosini (violin)
DDD: recorded in Montepulciano Siena, 18-20 August 1996
NAXOS 8.554252 [65.42]


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I’ve always thought it strange that the harp isn’t a more popular recital instrument. After all, many of its expressive strengths and weaknesses are shared by the acoustic guitar, CDs of which have always seemed to sell well. The harp’s softly percussive qualities and intimate dynamic characteristics render a recital disc such as this – comprising more than an hour of consistently quiet and agreeably melodic music – a most satisfying and restful late-evening listening experience.

In its simplest form, the harp is an ancient instrument. Even before its technical possibilities were dramatically extended (in the early 19th century, by London-based maker Sébastien Erard) there was a considerable repertory, albeit of lightweight music. Its orchestral role developed from Beethoven (in Prometheus) through Berlioz (most famously in the middle movement of Symphonie Fantastique) until around 100 years ago, by which time few orchestral scores would get far without two: think of La Mer, or the lovely cadenza in the Ravel G major Piano Concerto, where resonant glissandi and harmonics abound – but where there’s seldom any real melodic prominence.

This recital disc is made up of Italian music (in fact Bochsa was French, but his piece is as much Bellini as Bochsa) written in the early years of the life of the double-action semi-chromatic harp (i.e. mostly around 1810-1830) but before the instrument acquired its ‘traditional’ orchestral idioms and associations. I say ‘semi-chromatic’ because, although the modern (in the sense of post-1810) harp is capable of modulating (i.e. playing in different keys) it is not in its nature to play meandering Tristanesque semi-tonal music: so there is a level of technical sophistication (in terms of musical language) which the harp isn’t able easily to reach. The CD programme we’re considering here reflects that. It’s all easy-on-the-ear, unambitious, simply melodic (though often florid and decorative) music, which demands little of us as listeners, but a great deal of the player.

Not all of this music is actually written for harp: the Clementi is a piano piece, and the Viotti appeared in various alternative guises, and not solely for the harp. The Rossini pieces – as you might guess from the running times – are disappointingly slight. The two Bellini-based pieces work particularly well: they’re charming and catchy, and (far more than anything else on the disc) technically challenging.

Claudia Antonelli won a number of international awards as long ago as 1970: she’s also the dedicatee of numerous recent compositions, mainly by contemporary Italians. (Perhaps, one day, Naxos could make up a programme of such material to balance this one?) Like her violinist colleague, she’s an able player: almost invariably on top of her task, singing lines as well as a harp can – jumping the gap, so to speak, from melodic note to melodic note, much as a guitarist must in order to create the impression of a sustained line – and delivering a range of dynamics and tone colours sufficient to maintain our attention and sweeten the musical dish.

The notes are brief but adequate, telling us more about the composers than the pieces themselves: and the recording is nicely resonant, but controlled. A pleasant package, especially at the always-tempting Naxos price.

Peter J Lawson

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