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Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Barbara Harbach, Orchestral Music V, Expressions for Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, David Angus
The first thing you might notice on hearing the program is how the music comes alive thanks to the very fine performances of the London Philharmonic Orchestra under David Angus. So of course one does not have to imagine what the music would sound like in a proper rendering because that is very much the case in this recording.
All four works have substance and girth, each with multiple movements and around 10 to 20 minutes play time. None outstays its welcome but has its say and says it well. Ms. Harbach orchestrates with a flair and a nice sense of the totality in a more or less classicist way. She has a distinctive use of the xylophone on parts of "Suite Luther" and "Early American Scandal," employing it colorfully to state some primary melodic parts. And then too winds and brass nicely balance strings throughout. She has a subtle way. She clearly knows what she is after and gets it.
"Suite Luther" grounds itself on the iconic Luther hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," weaving it into the musical proceedings throughout the five varied movements, creating various contexts for its restating, reharmonizations, rhythmic extensions, and weaving counter motifs and variations with skill and expressive logic. Like all four works this one is firmly tonal but decidedly Contemporary, more Neo-Classical than Post-Romantic, though not in the more obvious ways, happily. The musical syntax flows readily and communicatively.
At times her use of folksy and otherwise recognizable stylistic thematic materials makes her in my mind a kind of present-day Aaron Copland-like figure. Listen especially to her "Early American Scandals" in this light and I think you'll happily see this. And it all sounds straightforwardly fresh and non-derivatively original
"Arabesque Noir" gives us an ornate and nicely lyrical presence with a contrapuntal movement that is a pleasure to hear. "Early American Scandal" has vibrant contrapuntal life as well and a clear-cut lyrical freshness on top of the pronouncedly old-rural folksiness.
The "Recitative and Aria" has a just-so quality and sends us off with well-turned brevity. It pays tribute to actor Edwin Booth (1833-1893), one of the most admired Hamlets of his era.
This is not deliberately "advanced garde" music so much as it is an unassuming and open expression that seems to flow naturally and assuredly flows copiously from Barbara Harbach's fertile musical mind. What matters in the end of course centers around the works themselves. They hold much interest even after hearing a good number of times as I have done this past week.
Barbara Harbach shows off some genuine talent here. This is one good showing and I do not hesitate to recommend it to you if you are someone who wants to be abreast of what is happening right now, or simply wants to hear good music.