Repertoire for harp and orchestra is rare, with the Mozart Concerto for flute, harp, and orchestra in C major, K. 299, among the only standard repertory works. That American harpist Elizabeth Hainen manages to avoid that work is notable; that she delivers a largely interesting program without it is impressive. The major find here is the Harp Concerto in G minor, Op. 81, by virtually unknown British harpist-composer Elias Parish Alvars. The work was composed in 1842. It was clearly written for Alvars' own use, but only in the slow movement are there hints of the Paganini virtuoso model, and even there they are subtly deployed. The opening movement, which adapts Schumann's broad forms to virtuoso requirements, is as beautifully written for its instrument as anything could be, and Hainen is a remarkably clear, graceful player. The Morceau de concert for harp and orchestra, Op. 154, of Saint-Saëns is also remarkably idiomatic; this sweeping, rhapsodic work is another forgotten piece of French music of a century ago that deserves revival. Another attraction is the engineering from Vladimir Hristozov, working in a studio at Bulgarian National Radio (in a country not known for top-flight sound engineering). The harp does not adapt well to the recording medium and is often either buried in the texture or harshly amplified or otherwise unpleasantly emphasized. Here the warm brilliance of Hainen's tone comes through along with her startling dynamic range. There are a few downsides: the concerto by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Beethoven's teacher, is strictly by the numbers, and the accompaniment from the Bulgarian National Radio Orchestra is stolid (although never ugly). But given the news that Alvars actually wrote three full-scale concertos, none of them in circulation now, this rises to the level of a must-have for fans of the Romantic concerto.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Harp Concerto in G minor, Op. 81|
|Harp Concerto in C|