Yolanda Kondonassis / Ward Stare / Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra

American Rapture: Higdon, Barber, Harlin

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This live program from the Rochester Philharmonic under Ward Stare features two world premieres, by Jennifer Higdon and Patrick Harlin. The Higdon Harp Concerto of 2018 is a real find. Higdon has long been known as a fine orchestrator and as a composer of idiomatically written concertos for solo instruments, but she outdoes herself here. For one thing, the harpist is Yolanda Kondonassis, for whom Higdon wrote the work; she is an exceptional player, both charismatic and versatile. The finale, "Rap Knock," is not influenced by hip-hop, but calls for extended technique from Kondonassis in the form of rapping on the harp and interacting with the orchestra's percussion section. Sample the second movement, "Joy Ride," where the percussive quality of the harp strings themselves is exploited, as the harp unfolds several different relationships with the exuberant orchestra. The third-movement "Lullaby" is a beautiful harp nocturne. Harlin's Rapture (also not influenced by hip-hop) has a program regarding a mystical experience of caves that you might not guess; it's also a well-orchestrated work. The Symphony No. 1, Op. 9, of Samuel Barber, although not far in time from the Adagio for Strings, is miles removed from it expressively. It's a dense, rather edgy single-movement encapsulation of four-movement symphonic form, and it's not often played. The clarity of Stare's readings extends to this work here, and it's all the more impressive given that this is a live recording. Cleveland's small Azica label achieves world-class results at Rochester's Kodak Hall. Recommended.

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