In modern music, the harp remains an overlooked and misunderstood instrument. Even in classical music, it is often relegated to angelic arpeggios and wallpaper chamber music. By giving her album the title Harpiste (Harpist), Hélène Breschand reaffirms the identity of the instrument, fully assuming its weight, both physical and historical. The short program (three quarters of an hour) presents four works for solo harp from the 1960s and 1970s, plus three improvisations. In her liner notes, Breschand identifies Luciano Berio's "Sequenza II" (1963) as the harp's entry into modern composition, but John Cage's "In a Landscape" predates it. Berio's piece features extended techniques, daring harmonies, and the fabulous sense of form and movement that prevails throughout the "Sequenza" series. Cage's is a delicate minimalist work, repetitive, meditative, and above all profoundly tonal. The other two works come from the East. Yoshihisa Taïra's "Sublimation" packs the biggest punch, its wide range of dynamics providing the harpist with resounding proof of her instrument's suitability to late-20th century musical concerns. More subtle, Ton-Thât Tiêt's "Chu Ky III" has strong moments embedded in a structure that lacks a sense of wholeness. Breschand's improvisations work as a counterpoint to the composers' discourses, exploring other possibilities, often close to silence. With its great selection of works, excellent sound quality, and commanding interpretations, Harpiste stands as one of the best albums of its kind. Granted, there are not that many of them around, but were you to get one, it might very well be Harpiste.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture