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Chamber Music 1
American Solstice for chamber ensemble (2006) [11:23]
Transformations for string quartet (2006) [15:37]
Forces at Play for chamber ensemble (2005) [11:08]
Carondelet Caprice for chamber ensemble (2007) [4:54]
Fantasy and Fugue on Swing Low, Sweet Chariot for woodwind quintet (2006) [4:25]
Separately Together – Synesthesia for chamber ensemble (2006) [13:15]
Rhapsody Ritmico for brass quintet (2004) [4:21]
Ensemble Istropolis/Kirk Trevor; Moyzes String Quartet; Woodwind Quintet; Brass Quintet (rec. 20 May 2006); (Carondelet Caprice, Separately Together and Forces at Play), 21 May 2006 (American Solstice and Fantasy and Fugue on Swing Low, Sweet Chariot), 24 May 2006 (Transformations), 26 May 2006 (Rhapsody Ritmico), Slovak Radio Hall, Bratislava, Slovakia. DDD
MSR CLASSICS MS1253 [65:32]
Experience Classicsonline

It’s always good to find a new composer whose music speaks directly to you, using a language which is easy to understand and assimilate, which doesn’t require the instrumentalists to do things to their instruments which seems to be against nature, and which has tunes.
Say Hi to Barbara Harbach.
Harbach already has an impressive list of works to her credit – much orchestral music, including two symphonies, pieces for chamber ensemble, string orchestra, organ, harpsichord, piano as well as scores to several silent films, a couple of musicals and choral pieces. She is also well known as a concert organist and harpsichordist, the presenter of a TV show, Palouse Performance – seen throughout the inland Northwest - and is currently professor of music at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
This issue is called Chamber Music 1 so, obviously there is more to come (Orchestral Music 1 - MSR 1252 is already available), and the pieces here recorded are quite delightful. There is an open-air quality to these pieces, much in the manner of the Copland of the ballets and the folk inspired works of the 1940s. The scoring is transparent and the textures clear and bright. This is “white note” music, and is an excellent example of a “new simplicity” in composition. I am wondering if this music is the aural equivalent of the Americana of the work of Grandma Moses, but I must say that although both Harbach and Moses create works of Americana, there is nothing na´ve about this music.
American Solstice, which starts the disk, is based on an original fiddle tune and is exactly what we, in England, would call down-home Americana. It is very attractive indeed. Easy going and very melodic with no problems whatsoever, Harbach gives us the wide open prairie, long vistas, lots of sunshine, the settlers working the land.
Transformations has eight very short movements. The music, although still of the Americana style, is slightly more angular with more movement and argument.
Forces at Play was written as a ballet and if Appalachian Spring is to your liking you’ll love this. Carondelet Caprice was inspired by pioneer film director Lois Weber’s 1913 film How Men Propose and Separately Together – Synesthesia (a five movement work) was inspired by Alice Guy Blanche’s 1913 film A House Divided (Harbach has written scores for both these films, but I have no idea how the pieces relate to the film scores as I have never heard them and the notes make no mention of this). Again we are in the wide open spaces (musically) and there’s also a touch of jazz, but here there are darker patches colouring the music which creates more interest and variety.
The final two pieces are chamber works for (wood)wind and brass quintets. The Fantasy and Fugue on Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is really too short to make much of an impression – it’s over almost before it’s begun. Rhapsody Ritmico starts in a most un-ritmico way but soon gets to the point and it’s quite a fun piece. A really satisfying end to the disk.
I hope that I have given some idea of the flavour of the music on this disk and when I have compared it to Copland I don’t mean that it sounds like Copland – certainly, this music doesn’t sound like any composer I’ve ever heard, it is original in that respect. It is very well written and skillfully, and gratefully, scored for the various ensembles. The performances here are very assured and the recorded sound, though a little dry, with the performers well forward, is easy on the ear.
I am very pleased to have made Ms Harbach’s acquaintance and want to hear more of her work. It’s fine stuff, well deserving of a hearing.
Bob Briggs


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