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Jennifer Higdon’s Lovely New Harp Concerto

David Hurwitz, Classics Today. Click here for the original review.

Yolanda Kondonassis plays a mean harp, and Jennifer Higdon has written a lovely concerto to exploit her abilities. Lasting about 20 minutes, its four shapely movements have titles that aptly characterize the music without asking listeners to fit a square conceptual peg into a round musical hole: First Light, Joy Ride, Lullaby, and Rap Knock. The last movement, as its title suggests, treats the harp in percussive fashion, asking the soloist to bang on the body of the instrument, but it’s done with real panache and never sounds gimmicky. This is, in short, a serious addition to the modern repertoire for harp and orchestra, and I recommend both the work and the performance very strongly.

Happily, the couplings don’t alter this positive impression. Ward Stare leads a warm and passionate interpretation of Barber’s First Symphony. Tempos are effectively integrated to produce seamless transitions between sections, and he gets the violins of the Rochester Philharmonic to really sing out in the frequent lyrical passages. Patrick Harlin’s “Rapture” is eight minutes of pleasant, somewhat anonymous contemporary music. The title is unfortunate: it leads us to expect anything other than what Harlin actually delivers, which is an effectively written post-minimalist orchestral showpiece, but if we ignore that detail there’s nothing to take issue with.

In sum: fine performances, excellent sonics, and the Higdon is a real winner.