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Alvars, Albrechtsberger, Saint-saëns: Harp Concertos / Elizabeth Hainen

Release Date: 05/10/2011 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2221   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Elias Parish AlvarsJohann Georg AlbrechtsbergerCamille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Elizabeth Hainen
Conductor:  Rossen Milanov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

PARISH ALVARS Harp Concerto in g, op. 81. ALBRECHTSBERGER Harp Concerto in C. SAINT-SAËNS Morceau de concert, op. 154 Elizabeth Hainen (hp); Rossen Milanov, cond; Bulgarian Natl RO AVIE AV2221 (67:09)

Despite the venerable status of the harp as one of the most ancient musical instruments in mankind’s history, Read more concerted works for it and orchestra are not common, doubtless due among other factors to the difficulty of balancing its delicate sound against a mass of more robust competing instruments. Harp aficionados may therefore rejoice in the present release, which adds to the small pool of such works available on disc.

Like many once-famed 19th-century virtuosos, the English harpist Elias Parish Alvars (1808–49) is little-known today; but during his abbreviated lifetime—he was prematurely felled by pneumonia—he was acclaimed by figures no less than Franz Liszt and Hector Berlioz. The latter also praised his compositions, of which there are about a hundred. (A biography of Alvars was published in 1999 by harpist Floraleda Sacchi; I reviewed a CD of hers back in Fanfare 34:3.) The second of ten children, he received his initial musical training from his father, an organist and singing teacher, and was tutored on harp by two émigré French virtuosos, Nicholas-Charles Bochsa (1789–1856) and François Joseph Dizi (1780–1847). Both teachers had colorful backgrounds. Also an opera composer, Bochsa fled Paris for London after being charged with counterfeiting, fraud, and forgery; he later absconded to Europe with the wife of composer Henry Rowley Bishop and finally died in Sydney, Australia, where she erected an elaborate tomb as his memorial. For his part, the 16-year-old Dizi was about to set sail for England when he jumped into a harbor to save a drowning man; the ship left without him, carrying away all his possessions, including his harp. As an adult, Parish Alvars primarily based himself in Vienna and toured primarily in England, France, Italy, and Germany, sometimes using the name Alfred Alvars, but his travels took him as far away as Russia and the Ottoman Empire. The G-Minor Concerto is the second of his three harp concerti and probably the most frequently performed. It is thoroughly Mediterranean in orientation and musical vocabulary, and clearly influenced by bel canto opera. A lilt at one place early in the third movement offers a mild hint of an Iberian flavor (some sources claim that the Alvarses were Portuguese immigrants whose last name originally was Alvarez).

Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736–1809) is primarily remembered as the subject of two pieces of historical trivia: as the man preferred by the young Beethoven for a composition teacher to Franz Joseph Haydn, and as the composer of concerti for Jew’s harp and orchestra (he is known to have written at least seven, of which three are extant and two have been recorded). During his lifetime his major claims to fame were as an organist—he was appointed imperial organist to the Habsburg court in 1772 and Kapellmeister of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna in 1792—and as a musical theorist; his pupils included Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Ignaz Moscheles. I have long been fond of his harp concerto, having first come across it some 35 years ago on a 1966 Hungarian Qualiton LP (SLPX 1237, reissued in England on Fidelio FL 3301 but never transferred to CD) I purchased to obtain the Trombone Concerto that is its discmate. The harp used on that recording is a single-action historical instrument that probably was owned by no less a personage than Marie Antoinette; the modern double-action instrument was patented in 1810 by Sébastien Érard, the famous maker of early 19th-century pianos. (Érard also kindly provided the adolescent Dizi a replacement harp and found him pupils to tutor when the latter finally arrived in England.) I still have the very distinctive sound of the older instrument in my ears when I hear this piece, so it took some mental adjustment for me to acclimate myself to the modern instrument used here. The same applies to the orchestral accompaniment, which surprisingly is somewhat less observant of period practice than the venerable Hungarian performance; for me, the latter gets more out of this piece than is presented here.

The Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) Morceau de concert , the best-known piece on this disc, was composed near the end of the composer’s long life, in 1919, but belongs in every respect to his youth of 60 years earlier. The first section employs a stately folk tune that sounds far more redolent of his fellow long-lived conservative contemporary Max Bruch (1838–1920) than anything French, recalling the composer’s youthful infatuation with the music of Felix Mendelssohn.

As I am a Philadelphia resident, this review is something of a hometown affair for me; soloist Elizabeth Hainen is the principal harpist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Rossen Milanov is its longtime associate conductor. She plays with purling tone, faultless technique, and judicious interpretive taste, while he provides solid if not remarkable accompaniment (not that he has much remarkable to do). As there is only one other recording of the Parish Alvars, two of the Albrechtsberger, and six of the Saint-Saëns in print per ArkivMusic, and no other CD pairs any two of these works, there is no direct competition for this disc, but even if there was it would doubtless be able to hold its own. Not being a lyre, I won’t harp on this point and string you along further; recommended to all music lovers with plucky spirits.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Harp in G minor, Op. 81 by Elias Parish Alvars
Performer:  Elizabeth Hainen (Harp)
Conductor:  Rossen Milanov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 19th Century 
Concerto for Harp in C major by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger
Performer:  Elizabeth Hainen (Harp)
Conductor:  Rossen Milanov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1773; Vienna, Austria 
Morceau de Concert for Harp and Orchestra in G major, Op. 154 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Elizabeth Hainen (Harp)
Conductor:  Rossen Milanov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1918; France 

Customer Reviews

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 Very Great Music November 19, 2015 By Joseph Doherty (San Francisco, CA) See All My Reviews "This is just beautiful music." Report Abuse
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