Opera Transcriptions for Harp and Piano

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 7

I first heard the harp/piano Duo Praxedis on their CD containing wonderful arrangements of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. Their audacious and ingeniously-crafted transcription of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade also impressed me. So does this two-disc set of operatic transcriptions, arrangements, and paraphrases by obscure 19th-century musicians.

Most of these are potboilers, meaning that you have familiar arias strung together with virtuoso filler: Naderman’s rather empty-headed variation set on Mozart’s “Non più andrai” from The Marriage of Figaro is a case in point, and so is Labarre’s entertaining if overlong Caprice on Donizetti’s La Favorite, which yields to the textural invention and dramatic contrasts characterizing Oberthür’s treatment of the same source material. Bochsa’s fairly literal arrangement of Rossini’s Barber of Seville Overture is less effective when the sharply delineated accompaniment is assigned to the harp. But the arrangements by both Labarre and Negri are represented by two very different yet equally fun concoctions based on Rossini’s La gazza ladra.

In any event, the only way to interpret this kind of music is to lavish the utmost care and detail on every bar, and to play with conviction. The two musicians calibrate balances in regard to melody and accompaniment with sophisticated aplomb, while their rubato passages achieve an eerie synchronicity. While the sonics are on the thin, over-resonant side, the performances never fail to delight. However, like all ear candy, it’s best to listen in small doses, one selection at a time. Well, maybe two, but three’s the limit!



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Recording Details:

Album Title: Histoires--Original Arrangements of Operas for Harp & Piano

Operatic Arrangements by Charles Oberthür, Theodore Labarre, Henry Steil, Sophie-Lucille Larmande des Argus, François-Joseph Naderman, Benedetto Negri, & Robert-Chicaloas-Charles Bochsa


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