The Harp Column, October 2011
“filled with expression as well as some sublimely beautiful moments”
—Alison Young, The Harp Column, October 2011
Years ago, I traveled to the Czech Republic to make a CD of American concertos for flute and orchestra. It was cheap, quick and the orchestra was hungry for the work.
I imagine Elizabeth Hainen – the marvelous solo harpist of The Philadelphia Orchestra – found hiring her own band prohibitive for this particular project. But what a fantastic group she got with the Bulgarian National Radio Orchestra. They have a lovely lush sound that’s well balanced and blended and gives Hainen just the heft needed to let her gorgeous sound and technique shine.
This new disc of Harp Concertos shines brightly. I have played most of it on my program on Minnesota Public Radio already and it is the go-to disc for my colleagues as well. She records three representative pieces from the repertoire and each given its own distinctive voice, which is what Hainen does so well – emphasizing a variety of colors and moods to give her harp the sound of an instrument not limited in scope.
The disc begins with the composer I know the least – Parish Alvars, “the Liszt of the harp,” a 19th century musician of contrasts. He was said to be built like a workingman with massive shoulders and a rugged physiognomy, but dreamy eyes to make women melt. His concerto is most arresting and clearly written by a harp virtuoso as he makes use of effects that were not available before the double-action harp was invented. Hainen gives the music a polish that lets some odd moments stand out with humor and panache. I have a sense when she plays that Hainen is quietly smiling even when things get dicey, knowing the dazzling effect this music has on her listeners.
Johann Albrechtsberger missed the invention of the double-action harp by a year. In his concerto he has less to work with, but creates a delightful classic concerto that allows our soloist plenty of breathing room to show her masterful – but always delicate – technique. Albrechtsberger was a composer and a crack organist, but he is most remembered for his teaching and writing about composition rather than composing himself. When Haydn blew off Beethoven upon his arrival in Vienna, Albrechstberger took him under his wing and left him with these words: “Patience, diligence, persistence, and sincerity will lead to success.” I love that he was such a generous teacher and it seems Beethoven listened. This concerto is full of sincerity and is played with great style.
Hainen finishes the disc with Saint-Saens’ Morceau de Concert for Harp – which sounds much better in French. It’s simply ‘concert piece’ in English, and what an understatement that is. It’s atmospheric, filled with expression as well as some sublimely beautiful moments. As a kind of test piece for Paris Conservatory students, this piece has it all and you really begin to hear the beauty and range in Hainen’s playing. Saint-Saens may have been a virtuoso pianist and organist, but as his student Gabriel Faure so cleverly caught in a caricature of Saint-Saens seated at his own harp with a far-off expression – Saint-Saens completely understood the instrument and what makes it so beguiling. Elizabeth Hainen has the musicianship, the scope and the will to take us where this music wants her to go. It’s a beautiful disc that I highly recommend – Alison Young
The Harp Column