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Jean-Michel DAMASE (1928-2013)
Works for Harp and String Orchestra
Ballade (version for harp and orchestra) (2011) [11:03]
Duo-Concertant for Flute, Harp and string orchestra (2008) [17:55]
Concerto for Viola, Harp and string orchestra (1990) [17:55]
Concerto for Bassoon, Harp and string orchestra (1990s?) [14:58]
Rachel Talitman (harp)
Luc Loubry (bassoon)
Benoit Fromanger (flute)
Pierre-Henri Xuereb (viola)
Il Sono Chamber Orchestra/Jean-Michel Damase
rec. 2006, Royal Conservatory of Brussels, Belgium
HARP & COMPANY CD5050-06 [61:00]

After Dutton's 2014 volume of three concertos and the Symphonie it is heartening to have this set of four concise concertos from Damase. He was a composer who was as creatively prolific as Martinů and Villa-Lobos. Given that this CD (which predated the Dutton) is from Rachel Talitman's Harp & Co label it is to be expected that each of the four favour the harp either alone or in partnership … and they do. Damase wrote a great deal and we have heard very little of it; our loss.

Jean-Michel Damase, subtle melodist and gifted practitioner of impressionism, was born in Bordeaux. His mother, Micheline Kahn was a distinguished harpist. He became a pupil of Cortot in Paris. Composition studies were with Henri Büsser. This disc affords most delightfully balanced sound. As for the liner-notes, which are in English and French, they are well constructed so far as artist profiles are concerned but lamentably lacking when it comes to describing each of the four pieces. Even the dates are missing. This is all the more the pity when the composer himself conducts and when the music itself has such shining merit.
The single movement Ballade for harp and orchestra is of overture duration. Its joyful and lightly bubbled delights have a subdued incandescence and a gentle impressionism. This score would have pleased Ravel in his Introduction and Allegro days and Debussy in his Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane period. There are no abrasive surfaces; only gentle but imaginative enchantment. One can imagine this Ballade being the key to Ravel's Mère l'Oye ballet and Alwyn's Lyra Angelica.

The Duo Concertant for flute, harp and strings is in two movements. Damase makes faultlessly smooth and sweet music that hymns easy company, happiness and sunshine in the initial Moderato. The music drops a degree or two in temperature in the Andante but, enlivened by memories of the Moderato, capers in delight in the closing Allegro pages - happy indeed.

The three separately tracked movements of the Concerto for viola, harp and strings takes us on a journey We start amid tranquil half-shades relieved by emotional gusts. There's a pecking and, for Damase, dry Allegro vivace and a dank and dignified Andante to end. It's about the same duration as the flute work but more ambivalent and unstably complex in mood. That said, it ends with a typically bright neo-classical gesture.

The Concerto for bassoon, harp and strings is dedicated to Talitman and bassoonist Luc Loubry. Across its three movements - Allegro Moderato; Adagio; Allegro - it has a more undiluted smiling manner than the viola work. It's lyrically sunny and the very generous Damase also includes delightful pages for the solo violin. The bassoon, often written off as a buffoon, here revels in writing that combines wit, serenades and the winning and singing ways of an outdoorsman. This would pair well with another egregiously neglected French work Jean Françaix's L'Horloge de Flore.

Predictably, Harp & Co have a harp-dominated catalogue encompassing many discs. They continue to keep the mix fresh and if the idea of harp concertos captivates then this disc will be nothing other than very rewarding.

Rob Barnett



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