Notes and Editorial Reviews
Given how often these chamber works by John Harbison are played in concert, it is somewhat surprising that this is the first CD to offer them on one program. At once highly abstract, completely accessible, and intensely personal, Variations and Twilight Music were written in the 1980s and have become classics in their own right, fitting comfortably alongside the likes of Bartók's Contrasts and Brahms' and Ligeti's respective Horn Trios. Although both pieces on this recording were taken from live performances by the fine members of Spectrum Concerts Berlin, the sound is not compromised in the slightest. The composer's brief, loopy program notes do not aid comprehension of his music, but deep analysis is uncalled for: the works are
predominantly formal in structure and are fully described in the track listings.
In simplest terms, Harbison's Variations for piano, clarinet, and violin revolves around a theme and 15 concise subsets, joined by canonic interludes and culminating in a finale that binds them all together. The variations themselves, which move seamlessly from one to the next, also refer to different instrumental combinations. Within the work, the listener will detect clear groupings: the first four variations come across as lyrical statements, while variations five through 10 are much more agitated and rhythmical. The final set explores musical form in the context of the main theme, with clever examples of fugue, passacaglia, and waltz. Violinist Janine Jansen, clarinetist Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer, and pianist Daniel Blumenthal fashion terrific ensemble playing and really bring this music to life.
Twilight Music is a sort of desultory conversation among the piano, violin, and horn, wherein the separate instruments, in an attempt to highlight their differences, occasionally come together in brief unison lines before moving on. As might be expected, the horn (played to perfection by Bernhard Krug) sticks out, both in terms of sonority and technique (the Presto second movement being particularly difficult for the instrument). The deceptively simple third movement (Antiphon) demonstrates just how much Harbison is able to say in such a compact form, probably the truest test of his prodigious compositional skills.
In the middle of this disc, which because of its rich content seems longer than 53 minutes, is the eloquent and intimate Four Songs of Solitude for solo violin, written as a present for Harbison's wife. Harbison is at pains to depict these as songs (as opposed to any other form) and no doubt this element is caught in their improvisational style, full of intervallic leaps, sighing arpeggios, and flexible tempos. Jansen gives a free-spirited, commited performance (this time, in the studio) and negotiates the more technically bracing fourth song with the same grace as the more lyrical ones before it. Without much in the way of competition, this latest entry in Naxos' American Classics imprint is welcome and long overdue. [5/31/2003]
--Michael Liebowitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Songs (4) of Solitude by John Harbison
Janine Jansen (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1985; USA
Twilight Music by John Harbison
Janine Jansen (Violin),
Daniel Blumenthal (Piano),
Bernhard Krug (French Horn)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1984; USA
Be the first to review this title