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Scarlatti and More
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
12 Variations on “Folie d’Espagne”, Wq118/9, H263 [9:43]
Aleksander Aleksandrovich BALTIN (1931-2009)
Three Preludes [14:36]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Keyboard Sonata in A minor K149 [2:56]
Keyboard Sonata in B minor K197 [6:43]
Keyboard Sonata in D minor K213 [6:27]
Keyboard Sonata in E major K162 [6:22]
Keyboard Sonata in E minor K198 [3:14]
Keyboard Sonata in F major K469 [3:42]
Keyboard Sonata in F major K239 [3:33]
Sonata in G major [1:51]
Sonata in G minor [5:10]
Germaine TAILLEFERRE (1892-1983)

Harp Sonata [9:52]
Cristina Bianchi (harp)
rec. 2019, Bayerische Rundfunk, Germany.
OEHMS OC1715 [68:42]

I have always loved the harp and this dates from when I first heard Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet. My encounter came when the piece was chosen as the theme for BBC Radio’s adaptation of Dorothy L Sayers’ “The Man born to be King” in 1965. The music has been reviewed at least twice here (review and review) in the form of an Alto reissue of the L’Oiseau-Lyre recording. The Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto is also special. What is different with the present disc is that Cristina Bianchi is playing transcriptions which she has arranged for solo harp. The recital is very well played but I found that the harp in splendid isolation spelled a lack of variety. I would advocate playing the CD a few pieces at a time rather than all of it in one go.
Bianchi was born in Milan and had her first harp lessons at the age of seven with Luciana Chierici at the Milan City School of Music. She completed her diploma with the highest distinction at the age of sixteen and from 1989 to 1995 was principal harpist with the European Community Youth Orchestra. From 1996 to 2001 she held the same position at the Genoa Teatro Carlo Felice. From 2001 to 2008 she was principal harpist in the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and in 2007 was appointed professor of harp at the Munich Hochschule for Music and Theatre. She has been a prize-winner on a number of occasions, including the International Harp Competition in Bloomington, the Prix Lily Laskine in Paris, the International Harp Contest in Israel and the Victor Salvi Competition in Italy. She has served on juries for various international harp competitions. Her recordings, solo and with ensembles include diverse composers from Henze (review), Jolivet, Koechlin and Rota (review).

Cristina Bianchi has been exploring the works of Domenico Scarlatti for many years, and on this album, her aim is to demonstrate for the listener the inexhaustible wealth of his compositions. The harp’s sound is similar to that of the harpsichord. Despite her obvious talents, I found too little variety in the works as performed. The programme’s other titles are largely unknown, or rarely performed on harp: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s “Twelve Variations on the Folie d’Espagne” is very successful. I love variations and the playing here is very adept in communicating this work. The depth of sounds that are created from the harp are really impressive and the recording captures the resonance beautifully. It’s a real stand-out and a good place to start listening to this disc. I found the second group of Scarlatti sonatas K149, K162 and K198 on tracks 9-11 more successful and felt that the transcriptions were successful.

There is originality in the inclusion of Three Préludes by Aleksander Aleksandrovich Baltin, a contemporary Russian composer. Stylistically, his very personal musical idiom reflects the great Russian musical tradition. She states that these pieces captivate with their minimalism and the vitality and colours they produce.

In Bianchi’s view this recital mirrors a simple, clear and filigree transparency, always leading back to Scarlatti. It’s a personal concern to bring these impressive pieces and their composers to mind. They’re fascinating and provoking works and certainly worthwhile in this context. It might have been an idea to have included a few more modern works, written specifically for the harp in this programme. Two charming sonatas by Scarlatti end the disc.

Lovers of the harp should certainly enjoy this disc, especially the Bach and the Baltin. I hope to hear more from Cristina Bianchi in ensembles and perhaps in the works that I mentioned at the beginning.

David R Dunsmore

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