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Romantic Music for Harp
John THOMAS (1826-1913)
The Minstrel’s Adieu to His Native Land [06:23]
Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Die Moldau from Má vlast (1874) [13:47]
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
From The Seasons (1875): June (Barcarolle) [06:02]
From The Seasons (1875): October (Autumn Song) [06:09]
Albert ZABEL (1834-1910)
Fantasy on themes from Faust by Charles Gounod [16:10]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1883)
Prelude and Fugue in E minor (1837) [14:31]
Ricard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde (1857-59) [09:17]
Pauline Haas (harp)
rec. 2014, Sonatine Hall, Guerberschwihr, France
NAXOS 8.579015 [72:20]

This is an interesting and enterprising selection. There is no doubt that Pauline Haas is an accomplished harpist and she has chosen a programme that shows off the many-sided facets and interpretative possibilities of her instrument.

John Thomas was official harpist to Queen Victoria and was known as the Chief of the Welsh Minstrels. His doleful The Minstrel’s Adieu to His Native Land illustrates the traditional folk heritage associations with the instrument.

The Smetana Die Moldau transcription is much more impressive and one of the most successful pieces in this collection. The harp brilliantly evokes the fresh tinkling, sparkling thrills of running water through the gushing springs of the upper Moldau, its progress through rapids, and forests and plains and onto Prague. The music growing from light-hearted youth in character through to proud mature grandeur as it approaches the Capital.

The lyrical beauty of Tchaikovsky’s two pieces from The Seasons are beguilingly caught by the harp, especially so of the June Barcarolle.

Virtuoso harpist Albert Zabel, was solo harpist for the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg. His Fantasy on themes from Faust by Charles Gounod is the most substantial piece in the programme and it allows the instrument to show off its virtuoso and dramatic/melodramatic capabilities. The Faust themes he chose seem less familiar and it would have been helpful if Pauline Haas could have elaborated her otherwise splendid, if rather colourfully effusive album notes. Ms Haas suggests that this Fantasy ‘follows the tradition of pieces written for virtuoso performance and is inspired by fashionable tunes of the period’? Whatever, here the harp sings romantically and dramatically enough and the virtuoso challenges are eagerly surmounted.

Mendelssohn’s Prelude and Fugue in E minor is a formidable work half in the Romantic tradition but also definitely in homage to the influence of Bach. The Prelude, beautifully evocatively played, ‘is often compared to a river of tears’ and the Fugue transcends tension and anger to a beatific acceptance of death. An extraordinary piece nicely, sensitively transcribed by Pauline Haas.

Finally, there is a formidable challenge for Haas; her arrangement for harp from Liszt’s piano transcription of Wagner’s Liebestodt. She successfully creates an atmosphere of calm at the beginning and serenity at the close. The emotionally intense climb to the peak of passion, is fine to start with, with plenty of sound perspective and power but, to me, it loses momentum on the way up when there is a mood-breaking sag and pause. Nevertheless this is a brave and worthy attempt.

A small moan, occasionally there is some distracting and disconcerting background noise –the soloist breathing I understand. Nevertheless this is a most interesting and enterprising collection demonstrating the undervalued capabilities of the most romantic of instruments.

Ian Lace



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