Kondonassis Impresses with “American Harp”

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

This adventurous program features Yolanda Kondonassis in seven surprisingly substantial works for harp by American composers. There’s remarkably little fluff; even the lightest pieces here—John Williams’ the Lanes of Limerick, Stephen Paulus’ Berceuse, and Norman Dello Joio’s Bagatelles—have a degree of substance that we don’t always expect in repertoire for this particular instrument. Hannah Lash’s Stalk, whatever that’s supposed to mean, is alternately spiky and lyrical–quite entertaining. John Cage’s In a Landscape is hypnotic and proto-minimalist, with an Eastern flavor emerging now and again. Kondonassis gives her harp an appropriately austere twang here.

The major work on the disc is Lowell Liebermann’s Music for Harp. At almost 18 minutes, this is a major addition to the repertoire for the instrument, and it’s an impressively sustained piece full of distinctive ideas. That leaves us with Bariolage, by Elliott Carter. “Bariolage” means (on the violin at least) the rapid alternation of a single note with other notes around it. The technique was often used by Haydn to repeat the same note on different strings, with humorous results. Now the harp is, by its very nature, a tonal instrument, and humor never was Carter’s strong suit. Nevertheless, and despite Carter’s best efforts to be his usual self, the instrument defeats him–with the result that the piece is quite enjoyable.

Kondonassis is an amazing harpist with perfect technique and a pure, limpid tone that consistently seduces the ear. She handles the wildest flights of contemporary virtuosity with ease. Make no mistake, this is difficult music, not just for the hands, but for the feet as well. Her pedal shifting is always smooth and silent, and believe me there’s a lot of it. Azica’s sonics capture the harp at the ideal distance to offer maximum warmth as well as clarity. This is an absolutely beautiful disc full of music that’s well worth getting to know. It will surprise you.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this coupling

Works by John Williams, Hannah Lash, Lowell Liebermann, Stephen Paulus, Norman Dello Joio, John Cage, and Elliott Carter

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