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An overview of my recent recordings
Since leaving the London Philarmonic, I have been able to concentrate on building up a new solo repertoire,composing, and playing chamber music.
My greatest joy is performing with the magisterial violinist Michael Bochmann whose many musical insights have inspired my own performances.
For many concerts, we have also been joined by the soprano, Jane Leslie Mackenzie. She is well known in many Opera Houses, including Covent Garden,and is a remarkable artist. For many of her classical opera arias, I have arranged accompaniments for violin and harp. This combination sounds like a miniature orchestra.
The combination of violin and harp, as in our recording,"Sacred and Profane," thrills me more than the combination of flute and harp.
The flute with harp is a delicious combination, mellifluous and pleasing and much music has been written for these two instruments including Mozart's famous Concerto. In "Music for Flute and Harp" Clive Conway and I perform music by Mozart, Krumpholtz(Haydn's harpist at Esterhazy) and other classical composers. Jill Hughes joins us in the beautiful Interlude from the "Childhood of Christ" by Berlioz.
The famous Baroque violinist, Simon Standage and the Saloman Quartet joined me in "Concerti and Chamber Music" for some exquisite and important eighteenth century harp music. J.C.Bach's Harp Trio(Sonata VI) was written expressly for the harp, rare in a time when music was so often interchangeable between instruments. I rewrote Mozart's beautiful "Adagio and Rondo" for Glass Harmonica for the Harp and with accompaniment for the String Quartet. J.C.Bach's Sinfonia Concerto was published in Paris "for harp or clavier"and is a composition of exceptional vitality. The recording is completed by two works by Haydn.
The "Eternal Dreamer" was recorded in St Mary's Church, Chipping Norton, a venue with the most extraordinary accoustics for concerts and recordings. It is a collection of contrasted Romantic, Impressionist and Modern Pieces which show off the huge range of dynamics and colours possible on the harp.
Prokoviev's three Harp pieces, astringent and fascinating, are played together for the first time. William Mathias's stunning Improvisations, written for me, have huge contrasts in dynamic rhythms and poetry, despite their Grevity. The Cancion y Danza was re-written for me by the composer Antonio Ruiz-Pipo and is performed with remembrances of Renaissance Spain. The Petite Suite was my first composition, winning an International Competition in the U.S.A. and played now by harpists all over the world.
The "In Memoriam" was written in my agony of Iraq and the Asian Tsunami. The last chord, suddenly in the major, invites hope. The Nocturnes by Glinka, Parish-Alvars and Liszt are in sensitive romantic modes and lovely melodic phrases. The two Zabel pieces are in the grand romantic tradition and the Debussy sounding better on the harp than the piano? The recording opens with four characteristic compositions by Marcel Tournier.These explore every aspect of the harp's rich palette of colours.
The "Glory of the Harp" brings together some of the most important pieces of eighteen century harp music. Included also are some earlier compositions.I have always wanted to record on a "single-action" harp. This type of harp was so important at the moment when the early forte-piano was competing with the harpsichord.It was louder and more expressive than contemporary keyboard instruments and spawned a vast number of compositions which are still unknown.
Mozart's famous Sonata in C was played by Francois Petrini (son of the harpist to Frederic the Great) and the Sonatas of Dussek and Cardon give one an idea of contemporary styles.Handel's Variations in Bb may have been written for the Harp and a late eighteenth century version exists. The Mozart Variations by Jean Baptiste Mayer and the Spohr Variations by Philip James Meyer are high points in harp compositions of the period and of course Lois Spohr's famous Fantasia in C minor is one of the great adornments of classical harp repertoire.This recording also includes Sonatas by Parry and Casanovas.
The two CD's of the "Triumph of Time" are subtitled "A Celebration of Love" as the songs and arias show Love in all its aspects. "The Triumph of Time" was Handel's first Oratorio written in Italy in 1707. Handel was 22 at the time and his extraordinary genius was already evident.
The last track on the first CD "Tu del ciel ministro eletto" is the last aria of this Oratotio with a violin obligato written for Corelli. During the recording I was moved to tears by the extraordinary music and Jane Leslie Mackenzie's wonderful singing.
The CD's include Handel's Largo, Where ere you walk, Ch'io Pianga etc: Included are great Arias by Purcell, Mozart, some great religious Arias, such as Bizet's Agnus Dei and Bach-Gounod's Ave Maria. Interspersed are instrumental interludes including my latest composition "A Welsh Landscape".
An Overview of my Discography
My first solo recordings were made when I became a Solo Recording Artist for R.C.A. and was able to record my Petite Suite for the first time. Also, a record of some of my favourite Spanish pieces which I often include in my recital programmes.
I recorded Ravel's Introduction and Allegro with the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Gerhardt. Both Zabeleta and I were heavily criticised for playing the work with extra strings. However I found a letter from Ravel to the conductor Ingelbrecht where he states that the work with extra strings would sound "better than the original"!! This recording became a best seller in the United States.
A very special memory is my friendship with the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly. We re-wrote together his powerful "Wainamoinen Makes Music" for choir and Harp
Elizabeth Poston loved the harp and wrote "An English Day Book" for me and the Farnham Girls Choir. She also included beautiful harp parts and solos in "Welcome Child of Mary" which was founded on her "Penguin Book of English Carols."
I have never forgotton the recording of Guillaume de Mauchaut's music with the singer Nigel Rogers. The music still haunts me and I accompanied Nigel in "Nuls ne doit avoir merveille" on the small harp.
Andrzej Panufnik's "Universal Prayer" is an astonishing and moving piece scored for solo singer, three solo harps, organ and choir. We were all rather frightened as Stokowski was so difficult to follow.
In the "Roman Dream" by Alun Hoddinott, I can still remember Margaret Price's memorable voice.
When I joined the "London Early Music Group" directed by James Tyler I thought I was in a musical heaven, although sometimes it was difficult commuting between a very small medieval harp and a very large modern concert harp.
In "Songs of the Hebridies" I collaborated with the singer Alison Pearce. I was completely beguiled by the music even though-and perhaps inappropriately-I accompanied the songs on a modern concert harp. However, it seems to have worked.
Raymond Leppard in his voluptuous orchestrations of Baroque Operas (the way he combined continuo instruments-harpsichords, lute and harp) made a huge impression on me. His "Leppardisatious" probably wouldn't be acceptable now- but how dramatic and exciting they were. One day, playing harp continuo in "Ritorno d'Ulisse" at Glynebourne, I broke a pedal spring in the Overture. Starting to sweat quietly, as there was another one and a half hours before the interval, I had to keep kicking the pedal up with a stocking foot. Apologising to Ray, he said "I thought you were rather slow on the uptake tonight."!
The harp plays an important role in the music of Elgar and Vaughan Williams. The lovely variations on "Dives and Lazarus" and the "Wasps" Suite by Vaughan Williams have prominent and tricky harp parts which lend a voluptuous romantisism to the music.
I was only 19 (with two years of harping behind me) when I played with the National Youth Orchestra. The harp arpeggi at the end of the Overture come out loud and clear!
The Trojans by Berlioz was one of the most spectacular productions when I was at the Royal Opera House. A battery of six harps sounded as impressive as they looked and the touching Aria "Chant d'Iopas" has a beautiful harp obligato.(see Music Gallery for photographs).
Nicolai Gedda was one of the great tenors that sang at Covent Garden and it was wonderful to accompany him.
Massenet's Werther has one of the most beautiful harp parts in any opera -not too difficult but very effective.
Rudolf Kempe was for me the greatest of all conductors-a musicians conductor-and I remember him guiding me through the tricky harp obligato in Bruch's Scottish Fantasy with Kyung-Wha Chung.
Leoncavallo's Pagliacci has a very telling harp part in a very exciting score and what an impressive line-up of famous singers!
When my father was confused about me wanting to become a profesional harpist, Sir Adrian Boult gave us much support (see letters) and so it was special to play under his baton, and of course the music of the Elgar was dear to his heart. I first played Britten's" Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra" under his baton and before the solo, was confused by the bar lines and suddenly PLAY BOY!!!
Alicia de Larrocha is one of my favourite pianists of all time-she made a single note sound so beautiful and with such carrying power. Ravel's Piano Concerto in G has a lovely and evocative Harp Cadenza.
Haitink recorded Stravinsky's Firebird
with three harps (myself, Cherry Isherwoods,Frank Sternefeld)
and what an exciting score.
Sir George Solti was an energetic and exciting conductor with a confusing beat. However I have a great debt of gratitude to him, as his protege, I was shown how to play in the orchestra. He became a champion of English Music and I recorded and played Elgar's Symphonies many times.
"La Mer" is certainly my most favourite composition by Debussy and the harps are an integral part of the tone palette. Debussy also wrote well for the harp so the parts are a delight to play. The opening of "Prelude a I'apres midi d'un faune" is lent impressionistic magic by a soft harp glissando after the flute solo.
Rimsky-Korsakov used the harp in "Capriccio Espagnol" to enhance the Spanish Atmosphere, and there is also a brilliant cadenza which is most enjoyable to play.
John Prichard was a consummate musician and elegant conductor. His direction of Mozart Operas was legendary.
Bartok's second violin concerto has a very effective but difficult harp part and opens with solo harp. It is a fascinating work with many quicksilver changes of mood.
Klaus Tennstedt was an extraordinary conductor and probably the finest when it came to the interpretations of Mahler and Bruckner. Juliana Markova, the pianist, was on tour with him in the United States and told me how wonderful he was, so I told Eric Bravington (the L.P.O.Chairman) about him and the rest is history!
Mahler's songs with orchestral accompaniment have a powerful simplicity and the harp is often a pivotal part in the orchestration. In Mahler's 5th Symphony, the adagietto became famous in the film "Death in Venice". Tennstedt always wanted the harp to sound important in this movement for strings and harp and not "thin rain drop sounds" as in some recordings. He always gave me confidence in the difficult "placing"of the notes.
In the last part of "Ariadne auf Naxos" the harps have a very prominent but tricky part to play. In a semi-staged performance at the Royal Albert Hall, I broke another pedal spring in the first part and wondered what we should do. As the harps and the piano were at the side of the stage, we upended the harp (I thought nobody would notice) but a new spring would not fit. We managed the parts quite favourably and maybe nobody noticed a little bit of simplification. However the music critic praised the performance and added: "Towards the end of the opera, there was a commotion in the orchestra when one of the harps was up-ended and adjustments seemingly being made. I suppose this is quite usual in the pit at Glyndebourn but on the stage at the Royal Albert Hall it was altogether too fascinating".
Job. A Masque for Dancing by Vaughan Williams is a rather lugubrious piece and certainly not a barrel of laughs-We always felt rather depressed after performing it.
Not much harp in this wonderful Requiem by Brahms and the harp is silent after the second movement and only appears in the last few bars. One prays that it has stayed in tune.
Again one of Vaughan Williams' telling harp parts in the "Sinfonia Antartica". I shall never forget Tennstedt's recording of Mahler's 8th Symphony-the "Symphony of a Thousand". The excitement, the changes of mood, fine singers and the thundering organ at the end. The harps only enter about 45 minutes after the beginning and then there is a moment of repose with the strings and solo harp. It is a moment of sheer musical magic.
I am covered in confusion when I remember (and many people too-no doubt) when I was so nervous that I got the chimes of Big Ben wrong -that was long before this magnificent recording conducted by Bernard Haitink of Vaughan Williams' London Symphony.
The Wagner Scenes with Jessys Norman and Tennstedt was my last orchestral recording with the London Philharmonic. Jessye Norman's vocal equipment was so extraordinary that she could sustain melodic lines so slowly and yet with such a warm tone. "Isn't she wonderful" I said to a colleague "Yes he said"-"If you like a bucket of cream thrown over you." During one take of the Liebestod, tears were running down my face and I could not see the music and I did not play. I was worried that it might have been Jessye's best take. Klaus said "don't worry- we shall do it again" and then I packed up my harp and left the orchestra....
Reviews of Recordings
and Chamber Music
"What a delightful and civilised record, which I love. I hope you sell huge quantities of it."
Professor H.C. Robbins Landon(The great Mozart-Haydn Scholar)
"It is a genuine musical, pleasure to hear lovely works, new to me, composed by J.C. Bach, Mozart and Haydn. When these works are so beautifully and musically played the pleasure is even greater."
Lady Evelyn Barbirolli 3rd July 2000.
CONCERTI and CHAMBER MUSIC 15th April 2000
The balance of the solo instruments and their tone and the location of the recording make it all sound extremely fine and its all most attractive lovely music from a most beautiful age. We both seem to agree about many things in music, above all about tempo!! I love ALL your tempi, which for me, leave the music free to speak to us and never to ever think of or to feel encumbered by the harps limitations. It's all most delightful throughout. The string bowing all sounds very sensible and clear to me and right for the music.Your trills are still utterly amazing as is the speed and accuracy of your playing even in what sounds to me tricky passage work. As well as your usual brilliance the clarity is at all times faultless! I hope and pray that it will be well and kindly received by the critics.
I often wished I'd studied with you and become something like you as a player, but it was not to be for there was too much demand on my time!!
You are now one of the greatest players anywhere in the world, and wish you every happiness for the future.
Late DEREK BELL.
THE ART OF RECORD BUYING
This is a beautifully played and recorded concert of the popular French repertoire, a recital remarkable for a performance of Ravel's Introduction and Allegro with multiple strings rather than a solo string quartet. In effect this turns the piece into a Concerto for harp and chamber orchestra; rather surprisingly it comes off, though it does change the character of the work considerably.
The sound is immediate, crisp and clean, often deserving of our superlative grading-Strongly recommended.