The Plain Dealer

The Plain Dealer
By Robert Finn

“Harp recital played with skill, flair”

Harpists usually toil away in relative orchestra obscurity, providing special effects and occasional short solo bits in symphonic scores. There is, however, a fairly extensive solo repertory for the instrument, and this is what Ohio-born harpist Elizabeth Hainen explored at her enjoyable free recital Sunday afternoon in the Museum of Art’s Musart recital series.

Her brief and well-played concert offered music by an interesting variety of composers: German-born Englishman filtered through the hands of a French harp virtuoso, a Czech composer with an Italian name, a contemporary Pole, a 20th century Russian and two Frenchmen. She played everything with sure-handed technical brilliance and a flair for exploiting her instrument’s range of coloristic effects.

Several of the items were virtuoso showpieces, allowing Hainen to ripple up and down the strings of her visually beautiful instrument in rapid, scale-wise passages that she tossed off with aplomb. Her technical finesse was evident in the first piece, a prelude and toccata by Handel as transcribed for harp by celebrated harp teacher-composer Marcel Grandjany.

This showy piece (perhaps written originally for the organ?) became idiomatic for the harp in Grandjany’s version, and Hainen handled it expertly. It may not have been authentic Handel, but if you more or less forgot about the composer, it was fetching harp music.

All the other works performed were written for the harp. There was one contemporary piece, a sound-effects study by Philadelphia composer Jan Krzyeicki called “Starscape,” which showed off the harp in a mildly modernistic light. Its most interesting feature was its demand on the player to play very softly (as at the very end) to communicate a feeling of ethereal mystery.

For the rest, there was a pleasant little sonata by Franz Anton Rosetti, two colorful pieces by Aram Khachaturian and sweet but insubstantial items by Gabriel Faure and Marcel Tournier. Among these works, the most interesting was Khachaturian’s “Oriental Dance,” with its drum effects obtained by having the performer lightly rap her knuckles on the harp’s sound-board.

Hainen told the audience that she considers the harp to have one of the widest ranges of sonic effects of any instrument in the orchestra. Her recital did not really bear out that claim. The harp seems to my ears to be basically a gentle instrument with a limited dynamic range. But it was a most enjoyable hour of diverting music, extremely well played. The audience was of respectable size.