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Hommage aux Demoiselles Eissler
Jenny Broome (harp)
Frances Mason (violin)
rec. St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, 2016
MUSIC & MEDIA MMC123 [75:17]

The concept of this CD is to present a selection of works for violin and harp (with one solo piece for harp) that were performed by the Eissler Sisters. There were four siblings: Emmy and Frida were pianists, Marianne was a violinist and Clara played the harp. We are concerned with the last two on this disc. A detailed history is presented in the liner notes. For the sake of getting to grips with this CD, all that need be understood is that these Moravian sisters seemed to know everyone in late nineteenth / early twentieth century musical society; they had several works specially written for them by many significant composers, and they often gave recitals in the United Kingdom, including recitals for the Royal Family.

The proceedings open with a gentle Berceuse (Lullaby) (1855) by the largely forgotten German harpist and composer, Charles Oberthür. The liner notes explain that he worked in London and taught at the Royal Academy of Music. He composed more than 300 works, mainly for the harp.

If I am honest, Louis Spohr’s Sonata in C minor (1805) did not impress me. This longish work compresses the traditional four movements into two. I found it just a little long-winded. However, it is an intimate piece that may well grow on the listener.

We are on surer ground with Alphonse Hasselmans’s tender Valse de Concert, op. 4 (1885). It is everything that can be imagined of a work with this title. The Valse, composed for harp alone, makes a pleasant change in musical texture at this point in the programme. It is gentle and thoughtful from end to end, but the virtuosity increases as the work nears its conclusion.

I have always had an irrational dislike of music that feature the playing instruction ‘religioso’. And that includes works by Mendelssohn and Liszt. I always imagine that I am in for a dose of dour, po-faced religiosity. Sometimes I am wrong, and in the case of Francis Thomé’s Premier Andante Religioso, op. 70 (c. 1885) there is music that is a little lighter and more cheerful than the title suggests. Mentally, dump the label and just enjoy this lovely tune.

Most harpists play an arrangement of Camille Saint-Saëns The Swan: it is an obvious pot-boiler. He did produce three works expressly for the instrument: the Fantasie, op. 95, the Morceau de Concert, op. 154 and the present Fantasie for violin and harp, op. 124. This work was composed in less than a fortnight and was first heard at the Aeolian Hall on 2 July 1907. It is a virtuosic piece that taxes both players. The work is presented as a single movement which never really displays angst or sorrow. In fact, there is a definite Mediterranean mood about much of this music. It may reflect the town Bordighera where the work was composed, and possibly a trip to sunny Spain.

Charles Villiers Stanford’s Caoine is taken from his Six Irish Fantasies, op. 54. These had been dedicated to Lady Hallé, who first performed four of them at the St James’s Hall in London on 3 February 1894. A ‘Caoine’ is an Irish lament. Stanford has provided a melancholy piece, characterised by subtle variations of the melody and elaborate ornamentation. It is beautifully played here by violin and harp.

One of the most delightful salon pieces on this CD is the Sérénade, op. 7 by Gabriel Pierné. It was long-rumoured that it was written when he was only 12 years old: in fact, it was composed in 1881 when the Pierne was about 18. This playful and happy piece is written in an attractive Spanish style. The liner notes explain that it was included in a ‘command performance’ for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle.

Not sure about the Wagner transcription by August Wilhelmj. The Preislied (Prize Song) from the Meistersingers has been ‘dished up’ in so many arrangements that maybe there is no need for another. On the other hand, as Wagner goes, it is a lovely transcription, and is inspiringly played.

The Wiegenlied (c. 1898) by Richard Pohl also nods to Wagner. This time it is a lullaby that follows in his master’s footsteps.

The final piece on this CD is a gorgeous Larghetto (1886). Written by Queen Victoria’s official Harpist, John Thomas, it was seemingly composed with the ‘Eisslers in mind.’ This is a deeply moving, melancholic little number that deserves to be better kent.

There is an informative essay included in the insert about the sisters, and detailed programme notes about all the music included on this CD, written by the harp soloist, Jenny Broome. Biographical details about the instrumentalists are included.

This is a delightful and charming disc. Jenny Broome and Frances Mason play all the music with skill and obvious delight. Do not expect anything too challenging or profound here, although the Stanford and the Saint-Saëns are much more than lollipops. Just sit back and enjoy this disc dedicated to the chamber music for harp and violin from the repertoire of Marianne and Clara Eissler.

John France

Carl OBERTHÜR (1819-1895)
Berceuse op. 299 (1855) [3:57]
Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Sonate in C minor (1805) [16:50]
Alphonse HASSELMANS (1845-1912)
Valse de Concert, op. 4 (1885) [7:00]
Francis THOMÉ (1850-1909)
Premier Andante Religioso, op.70 (1885?) [5:07]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Fantasie op.124 (1907) [13:49]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Caoine, op. 54, No. 1 (1894) [8:36]
Gabriel PIERNE (1863-1937)
Sérénade, op. 7 (1881) [2:49]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) / August WILHELMJ (1845-1908)
Preislied (c. 1895) [7:21]
Richard POHL (1826-1896)
Wiegenlied (c. 1889) [5:32]
John THOMAS (1826-1913)
Larghetto (1886) [4:16]



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