Barbara HARBACH (b.1946)
Chamber Music III
Frontier Fancies, for Violin and Piano (1996) [11:32]
American Dialogues, for Flute and Piano (1997) [4:59]
4 Dances for Two, for Oboe and Violin (1997) [5:24]
Tres Danzas para Clavecin (1989) [7:00]
Phantasy and Phugue, for Solo Piano (1994) [6:28]
Spaindango - Caprice for Harpsichord (1988) [2:50]
Rustic Dance for Viola and Piano (1998) [6:00]
Perambulations for Trumpet and Piano (1996) [5:39]
Daystream Dances for Oboe and Piano (1992) [7:01]
Emanations from the Sacred Harp for Cello and Piano (2001) [7:07]
University of Missouri-St Louis Chamber Soloists: (John McGrosso (violin) [Frontier Fancies]; David Gillham (violin) [4 Dances for Two]; Paula Kasica (flute); Cynthia Green Libby (oboe); Kurt Baldwin (cello); Barbara Harbach (harpsichord); Paul Hecht (trumpet); Joanna Mendoza (viola); Alla Voskoboynikova (piano) [American Dialogues; Phantasy and Phugue; Rustic Scene; Daystream Dances; Emanations]; Ruth Price (piano) [Frontier Fancies]; Barbara Harbach (piano) [Perambulations])
rec. June 2008, University of Missouri-St Louis; SUNY Buffalo [3 Danzas], Kenmore Utd Methodist Church, Buffalo [Spaindango]. DDD
MSR CLASSICS MS 1257 [65:07]
Though far from a household name, Barbara Harbach has been writing music for a long time, and for a contemporary composer, a considerable amount of her work has appeared on CD. This is MSR Classics' sixth release of her music, and the third specifically of chamber music. Four of the previous five releases have been reviewed, warmly each time, on MusicWeb International: volume 1, volume 2, volume 3 and volume 5. This latest release is subtitled 'Chamber Music III: Reeds, Brass, Strings, Harpsichord and Piano'. MSR's website says these are world première recordings, without indicating which ones - which presumably means they all are.
Those unfamiliar with Harbach - she is probably better known as an organist and harpsichordist - need feel no trepidation. At about an hour in length, this is not an over-generously filled disc, but it is still one jam-packed with music which is both attractive and extremely accessible - melodic, tonal, structured, intelligent, varied.
Given the variety of instruments on offer, there will likely be something for everyone on the disc. Rustic Scene for Viola and Piano is as good a place to start as any for fans of American music - a lovely folk-like evocation of the wide spaces and huge skies of the American frontier. Some of the most memorable music is to be found in the three solo keyboard works - hardly surprising, given Harbach's proven abilities as a harpsichordist and organist. Spaindango - Caprice for Harpsichord is a short, humorous, riotous piece, featuring Harbach's own fingers flying up and down the keyboard, whereas Tres Danzas para Clavecin is Spanish flamenco guitar as played on a keyboard - by Harbach again - with a unique-sounding, jazzy Andante followed by another frenetic finger-chase aptly entitled 'Danza-Deliro'. The Phantasy and Phugue for Piano, with its Liszt-like opening, moves from brooding Romanticism into a hypnotic, almost minimalist section, and finally a bright fugue, with beginning, middle and end announced with dramatic piano 'thunderclaps'.
Frontier Fancies for Violin and Piano is in three short movements, with a particularly evocative second, entitled 'Twilight Dream'. The version for orchestra was reviewed on MSR volume 2 mentioned above. Perambulations for Trumpet and Piano is another very attractive, very accessible work. The trumpet part requires a perfect breathing technique, and is seamlessly interwoven with the piano music. But where that trumpet is slightly wistful, the oboe in Daystream Dances is marvellously pastoral and sunny - at least until the cooler evening air of the second movement, 'Reeling Dusk', starts drawing in. Though nothing on this disc is particularly profound - the emphasis is often on fun or sun - there are no weak works or fillers either.
Unfortunately the CD booklet does not give any information on the soloists - suffice to say that there should be few complaints about their performances. The sound quality is high, without being perfect - there is some slightly distracting 'air' noise in Four Dances for Two and Daystream Dances, a minimal permanent hum 'underneath' all the music, and the flute is almost too close to the mike for comfort in American Dialogues. On the other hand, the balance between trumpet and piano in Perambulations is just right.
Harbach has worked tirelessly to promote the cause of women in the arts, for which work she has received a number of awards. It is to be hoped that soon her music too will start receiving greater recognition.
Jam-packed with music which is both attractive and extremely accessible - melodic, tonal, structured, intelligent, varied.