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French Concertos for Harp
Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937)

Concert Piece in G flat major Op. 30 (1901) [13.14]
François-Adrien BOÏELDIEU (1775-1834)

Harp Concerto in C major Op. 82 (1795) [21.10]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Concert Piece in G major Op. 154 (1919) [12.55]
Henriette RENIÉ (1875-1956)

Harp Concerto in C minor (1901) [20.10]
Xavier de Maistre (harp)
Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie/Shao-Chia Lü
rec. 27 Nov - 1 Dec 2001, Görreshaus. DDD
CLAVES CD 50-2206 [67.33]


What marks this disc out from the tens of other harp concert discs? For a start it is generous. Look at the timing. More significantly we have here a number of works that are not all that common on disc. Only the Boieldieu is easily found elsewhere. The Pierné, and Saint-Saëns are unusual items but the Renié concerto here has its world premiere recording.

Renié was a celebrated harpist although of a generation that just missed the fame that came with recordings on the international stage from the 1950s onwards. She died in 1956 with her life work in teaching reflected in the publication of her ‘Complete Method’ in 1946. She was a pupil of the Belgian harpist Adolphe Hasselmans for whom she wrote her only concerto. This work is in three movements each warmly romantic (tr. 6 2.03) looking towards the twentieth century through Tchaikovskian spectacles rather than back to Boieldieu's Mozartian classicism. The second movement shows a wonderful awareness of impressionism while keeping its feet firmly in Saint-Saëns territory. De Maistre's lucid tone matches the clarity and opulence of the writing. Required listening for anyone who would like a slightly Slav-toned impressionistic concerto - opulent yet with no surrender to kitsch.

The Boieldieu is a lovely work and an urgent must-buy for the many admirers of Haydn and Mozart. The composer was a son of Rouen (where one of the Seine bridges bears his name). The Mozartian business of the concerto contrasts with the grave melancholy of the middle movement which proceeds in character with the equivalent adagios of Mozart's piano concertos 23, 24 and 27. The final movement is enchanting; all the more so when de Maistre plays with such attention to the quieter dynamics.

Two concertos and two concert pieces. For a work written in 1919 the Saint-Saens is more classically inclined but at first and at the end looks towards Egmont. A gracious tune used at 2.28 breaks the spell. This tune is part Holst (I love my love) and part Slav. The music is of a piece with the Renié. The other Concert Piece is the one by Pierné. This is perhaps the most modern (in this context the most impressionistic) of the four. It sometimes adopts a Tchaikovskian manner and also dabbles Franck-like treatments. He succeeded Franck as organist at Sainte Clotilde.

This is not quite the pretty-pretty assemblage you might have expected. Even the Boieldieu might surprise you with the Mozartian profundity of its middle movement. A real rarity in the shape of the valuable Renié as well as two imaginative French concert pieces showing sensitivity to Russian and Impressionist voices.

Rob Barnett


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