Lavinia Meijer (harp)
Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Candida Thompson
rec. 2013/14, Amsterdam Muziekgebouw; Rundfunkzentrum Nalepastrasse, Berlin
SONY CLASSICAL 88875 046402 [60:04]
Lavinia Meijer is back on track. My favourite living harpist, Meijer has an immaculate touch, great interpretive skill and a predilection for interesting repertoire. Now she turns to a selection of French impressionists, a sort of “Greatest Hits” album .... and it’s fantastic.
The album kicks off with “Clair de lune”. That should tell you what Meijer’s about, especially when you factor in just how tasteful and beautiful the performance is. It’s perfectly paced, too: not too fast, not too slow, sounding just right on harp. Then we move into Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro with fantastic support from the Amsterdam Sinfonietta and Candida Thompson. You probably know them from their own great series of albums, on Meijer’s former label, Channel Classics. This, and Debussy’s Danses for harp and string orchestra, are the highlights of the disc. These are such great performers: their affinity with the music is absolute, and their collaboration is one of equals. Also, the separate recording session resulted in slightly more open, resonant sound.
Satie’s first Gymnopédie is given a very, very slow reading, enough that the 1-2 rhythm started to get on my nerves. This might be the first time I’ve disliked a Meijer interpretation. Not to worry: the Gnossienes are back to her usual extremely high standards and they’re a treat.
Things do take a turn toward “pops”. The album has nearly fifteen minutes of music from Yann Tiersen’s Amélie soundtrack, for fans of the cult 2001 comedy. A couple of these excerpts are very enjoyable, especially the encore “Sur le fil”, but it’s clear Tiersen is not exactly on the same level as Debussy or Ravel. Amélie’s Waltz, for instance, starts off as an uncanny Satie impression before falling into the sort of predictable melodic and harmonic progressions that are a hallmark of movie music. Part of me wants to give Meijer and Sony credit, for giving Tiersen a chance but part of me thinks this was a cynical plan to get more radio play. I don’t know.
Lavinia Meijer’s first four albums, for Channel Classics, are all truly great. In those, she ranged far and wide for cool music to record, from the French tradition (Pierné, Ibert) to names known only to harpists (Salzedo) to modern voices from around the globe (Isang Yun, Takemitsu, Britten (Recording of the Month), Glass). Then she signed to Sony and produced an album devoted to easy-listening dreck-peddler Ludovico Einaudi. I mention this because my review was cruelly harsh, to put it politely. May this new review put me back in the good graces of the Lavinia Meijer Fan Club. She does well by Debussy, Ravel, and (mostly) Satie here, and gives us a fair chance to decide if we like Yann Tiersen’s music when it’s not attached to a movie. Overall it’s a very enjoyable release, especially if you love this repertoire or you need a disc for quiet reading, studying or painting.
Also, it’s a sheer joy to hear Meijer work with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta on the chamber and small-orchestra pieces. They should do a whole CD of harp concertos together. If Sony needs a guaranteed pops hit to anchor the programme, why not Joaquín Rodrigo’s own arrangement of the Concierto de Aranjuez? Surround that with Alwyn’s Lyra Angelica, Brazilian composer Radamés Gnattali’s chamber concerto, and a piece by a Frenchman like Caplet or Milhaud, and you have an album I’d love to hear.
By the way, this disc comes with a very cool booklet. It also functions as an art gallery, with paintings by Jeroen Krabbé matched to each composer, and selected poems by Dutch writers.
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Clair de lune [4:43]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Introduction et Allegro [10:06]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Gymnopédie No. 1 [3:42]
Yann TIERSEN (b.1970)
Comptine d’un autre été: L’Après-midi [2:10]
La Valse des monstres [3:39]
La Fille aux cheveux de lin [2:45]
La Valse d’Amélie [2:43]
Gnossiennes Nos. 1-3 and 5 [13:02]
Danses pour harpe et orchestra [9:37]
Sur le fil [4:25]
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