Yolanda Kondonassis

Salzedo's Harp: Music of Carlos Salzedo

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Telarc's recordings of American harpist Yolanda Kondonassis (despite the exotic name, she's from Oklahoma) have been repackaged several times in various forms -- not normally an ideal practice, but it works out well in this case. She has often played the music of French harp virtuoso Carlos Salzedo, and this disc collects five of those previous recordings -- Boléro, Rumba, Seguidilla, La désirade, and the Sonata for harp and piano -- and combines them with four new ones, including that of the magnificent Variations sur un thème dans le style ancien. This early work is hardly the careful piece of neo-classicism its title might suggest. Indeed, it's hard to know exactly what "ancient style" Salzedo had in mind -- the theme is a little tune that might have come from any number of times or traditions. It doesn't last long, and it's immediately plunged into a series of incredible technical tests. Some of its sections have musical descriptions ("Barcarolle"), while some are etude-oriented ("Chords and Fluxes"), but all contain treacherous passages for the harpist; the work sets the bar high and then keeps raising it. Kondonassis is an extraordinary virtuosa of the sort whose playing can just be allowed to wash over you. There's nothing particularly profound about Salzedo's music -- it is what American writers used to call potted-palm music writ large -- but it exploits the possibilities of the harp like nobody else before or since. Hear another of Kondonassis' new recordings, that of Scintillation (which she has done before). Salzedo calls for the harpist to fill in the instrument's registral extremes with an astonishing variety of tone color, and in Kondonassis' hands, and those of Telarc's superb engineers, its middle sections become an explosion of colors and textures that absolutely hypnotize the listener. This album offers virtuosity of the best kind; it's suitable for a wedding, but if meditated upon it will take you to the core of the musical soul.

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