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Henriette RENIÉ (1875-1956)
Légende (1901) [11:03]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Keyboard Sonata K109 in A minor, arr. for harp [5:36]
Carl Philipp Emmanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Solo (Sonata) in G Major, Wq. 139 (1762) [14:03]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1945-1924)
Impromptu No. 6 in D flat major for harp, Op. 86 (1904) [9:20]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Sonata for harp in G (1939) [10:34]
Phillippe HERSANT (b 1948)
Bamyan (2002) [7:59]
Anaïs Gaudemard (harp)
rec. 2018, La Courroie, Entraigues-sur-la- Sorgue, France
HARMONIA MUNDI HMN916111 [58:42]

Winner of the First Prize at the prestigious International Harp Contest in Israel 2012,the young Lyonnaise harpist Anaïs Gaudemard recorded her debut CD on the Claves label a couple of years back in an attractive programme of concertos by Ginastera and Boieldieu as well as Debussy’s magical Danse sacrée et danse profane . While I haven’t heard this disc, my colleague Stuart Sillitoe wrote enthusiastically about it in his review and now we have a successor on Harmonia Nova, Harmonia Mundi’s new imprint promoting promising young artists. As its title Solo suggests, Ms Gaudemard has compiled an imaginative programme for harp alone which traces the development of the repertoire for the instrument across three centuries.

Henriette Renié was a harp prodigy who studied with the legendary virtuoso Alphonse Hasselmans from the age of 9 and entered the Paris Conservatoire at 10 where she almost immediately won the Premier Prix de Concours. She swiftly developed a reputation as a teacher herself even before she hit her teens and was one of those pioneers responsible for the emergence of the harp as a credible solo instrument in the early years of the twentieth century. During World War II Renié wrote down her celebrated Harp Method, a two-volume pedagogic treatise which remains influential to this day. It therefore makes perfect sense for Gaudemard to open her recital with Renié’s sumptuous Légende, effectively a tone poem for harp based on Leconte de Lisle’s rather bardic poem Les Elfes, which describes the night-ride of a knight on his black steed on a doomed quest to seek his lover. It is hard to imagine an extended work that is more idiomatically conceived for the instrument. Colourfully written and episodic in nature, it presents an array of challenges to the player which Gaudemard fully embraces. Musically speaking Légende at times brought to mind the work of Renié’s contemporary Paul Dukas. It’s a fascinating and beguiling piece, and I’m certainly glad to have renewed my acquaintance with it in this terrific account.

After a glowing, delicate performance of a transcription of Scarlatti’s A minor sonata K 109 we are treated to a fluent reading of C.P.E. Bach’s rarely heard three movement Sonata in G, which is widely considered to be the first piece composed (in 1762) specifically for pedal harp. Oddly, this rather Haydnesque work is designated on this disc as ‘Solo’ rather than ‘Sonata’. There appears to be a great deal of debate on specialist harp websites about the order of its movements, with many cognoscenti suggesting that its stately slow movement fits best in the middle. It sounds perfectly satisfying and formally sound to me in this slow-fast-fast sequence however, and Gaudemard certainly makes the most of the innumerable opportunities the composer provides for tasteful ornamentation in what is a poised yet dynamic interpretation.

Fauré’s Impromptu Op 86 was written in 1904 as an examination piece for the Paris Conservatoire, and indeed its dedication to Hasselmans has led some to believe that the virtuoso himself contributed significantly to its composition, so idiomatically is it laid out for the instrument. Whatever the truth, it has inevitably become a repertoire staple and Gaudemard’s splendid reading is appropriately lush and expansive. It is followed by a deeply engaged account of Hindemith’s rarely heard sonata, which despite bearing the clear fingerprints of Gebrauchsmusik throughout, actually comes across here as one of his gentlest and least astringent works, exuding grace and even sensuality especially in its outer movements.

Anaïs Gaudemard’s recital concludes with Philippe Hersant’s Afghan-inspired, almost perfumed, Bamyan. This intriguing, evocative piece goes out of its way to avoid harp clichés, and as a consequence glissandi and arpeggios are no-go areas. Yet such is Hersant’s experience at writing for the instrument that the work still seems to fall most gratefully and naturally under this impressive performer’s fingers. Bamyan is odd, and haunting; its final moments stay in one’s mind long after its conclusion. The note makes much of Hersant’s previous music for the instrument and mentions his concertante work Le Tombeau de Vergile. I have an off-air recording of this – I rate it among the finest of all harp concertos and I rather feel that, based on the evidence of this account of Bamyan, Anaïs Gaudemard may just be the perfect candidate to present its long overdue premiere recording. In an ideal world, I would suggest that she couple it with another favourite harp concerto, the criminally ignored masterpiece by William Mathias. Whether these two pieces would make apt bedfellows is perhaps debatable, but they both involve sensitive yet thrilling writing for the harp and bewitching orchestration. In my view, both solo and concertante harp repertoire is too seldom explored or recorded, so if Ms Gaudemard, or anyone from Harmonia Mundi (or anywhere else) happens to read this….

Unusually and pleasingly, the notes also feature a pithy and poetic account of the processes involved in recording this recital. The producer responsible for this, Alban Moraud can feel justifiably proud of the naturalistic and convincing sound he has achieved for this beguiling instrument. It is warm yet objective, and has been carefully tailored to suit each of these pieces. They add up to a long overdue and delightfully performed recital of some serious, attractive and unusual harp repertoire which is well worth an hour of anybody’s time.

Richard Hanlon

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