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Sympathetic Readings

Orchestral music by
Barbara Harbach,
reviewed by

MSR Classics    MS 1252

Barbara Harbach Orchestral Music. Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra / Kirk Trevor. © 2007 MSR Classics

Dr Harbach is known as an organists and harpsichord performer -- her performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations was released on Gasparo Gallante in 2002, and she has championed composers writing new pieces for the harpsichord -- and yet her own orchestral compositions are light weight and lacking in a sense of cohesion that seems to leave the listener impressed by the obvious technical command, especially of orchestration, and at the same time frustrated by its aimless amiability.

On this first recording of orchestral works there is a three-movement 'symphony' called Veneration celebrating Venus, the spirit of love, beauty and desire. Though not particularly 'symphonic', it flows well and leaves a pleasant impression. Its third movement is titled Grace: Pleasure Heart.

Listen -- Grace: Pleasure Heart
(track 3, 0:00-1:08) © 2007 MSR Classics

Three pieces for violin and orchestra called Frontier Fancies consist of a lively display in Fiddleflirt, an atmospheric Twilight Dream, slightly reminiscent of Ketèlby

Listen -- Twilight Dream (Frontier Fancies)
(track 5, 0:00-1:07) © 2007 MSR Classics

and a Dancedevil tarantella that sounds good to play.

A Rhapsody Jadine for oboe and strings is lavishly described as lush, exotic, and with 'aromatic counterpoint' -- which is an interesting concept -- and there is a short piece for strings called Arcadian Reverie which again proves the composer adept in improvisatory indulgences, all being quite gentle, even to the disruption of a 'frolicking fugue'.

The other substantial piece on the disc is One of Ours -- A Cather Symphony, inspired by Willa Cather's 1922 First World War novel. The three movements are On Lovely Creek described as an American pastorale; Autumn in Beaufort, 'a charming interlude in the War'; and Honor at Boar's Head, a memorial to the many who died.

Listen -- Honor at Boar's Head
(track 11, 3:22-4:42) © 2007 MSR Classics

Sadly one comes to the end of the CD feeling the effect of a pleasant yet unmemorable experience. Kirk Trevor is the enterprising English conductor who has assisted much of our discovery of unfamiliar composers, and with his sympathetic readings allowed us the opportunity to assess many interesting new musical experiences.

Copyright © 20 September 2008 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK


Barbara Harbach: Orchestral Music Volume 1

MS 1252 DIGITAL Stereo FIRST RELEASE 56'05" 2007 Barbara Harbach

Frantisek Novotny, violin; Cynthia Green Libby, oboe; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Kirk Trevor, conductor

Barbara Harbach: Veneration for orchestra (Blessings: Gift of Blood; Charity-Caress; Grace: Pleasure Heart); Frontier Fancies for violin and orchestra (Fiddleflirt; Twilight Dream; Dancedevil); Arcadian Reverie for string orchestra; Rhapsody Jardine for oboe and string orchestra; One of Ours - A Cather Symphony (On Lovely Creek; Autumn in Beaufort; Honor at Boar's Head)


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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular series of shorter CD reviews