Carolyn Mills – Harp Students
The music and the players:
Germaine Tailleferre: Sonata for harp, movements 2 and 1 (Michelle Velvin)
Vincent Persichetti: Serenade no.10 for flute and harp, movements 2, 4, 6, 7 and 8 (Michelle Velvin and Monique Vossen, flute)
Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata in C major K.159, and Carlos Salzedo: Bolero and Rumba (Madeleine Griffiths, harp)
Maurice Ravel: Five Greek Folksongs and Habanera (Anita Huang and Je-won, harp and flute)
Jongen: Danse Lente and Gareth Farr: Taheke, movement 3 (Jennifer Newth and Andreea Junc, harp and flute)
Old St. Paul’s
Tuesday, 17 July 2012, 12.15 pm
An attractive concert was detracted from by the lack of a printed programme; the introduction by Carolyn Mills was eminently audible; not all her university student pupils emulated her in this respect, despite the use of a microphone.
The opening work was quiet and impressionistic, consisting of melody and accompaniment. There were some brilliant effects in these two movements, and a range of dynamics; it was skilfully played.
The Serenade, by an American composer I had not heard of, encompassed a variety of moods and techniques. The slow second movement played (4th movement) was particularly attractive, the instruments blending beautifully, yet maintaining their distinctive timbres. Perhaps because the French have written for the harp more than have composers of other nationalities, the work seemed to me to have a French quality about it.
The third movement played (6th movement) featured complicated cross-rhythms between the two instruments, and harmonic clashes, while the fourth (7th movement) had figures like birds in conversation, reminding me of Messiaen, with whom Persichetti was contemporary.
The final movement was of quite a different character; slashing glissandi on the harp against melodies on the flute made it often seem that the players were quite at variance with each other. The players were, however, totally in command of their performances, which were of a very high standard.
Madeleine Griffiths played her pieces from memory – a considerable accomplishment on the harp. The Scarlatti sonata is well-known in its original keyboard form, and I did not find it as effective on the harp, but it was very competently played, and there were more contrasts in dynamics than would be popssible on a harpsichord. Here, it had a delicious sound.
The Bolero’s lovely lilting quality conjured up charming evocations of Spain. Its confident, assured player then had us immediately into a fast, energetic dance, in the Rumba. A variety of techniques were employed.
The next harp and flute duo gave us the fourth and fifth of Ravel’s Five Greek Folksongs, then our second Cuban dance, the Habanera. The first song was very slow and plaintive, but beautifully played, especially the flute part. The second song had a brighter mood, yet a piquant quality, and there was more here for the harp to do. Grove tells me that the title of this song was ‘Tout gai’, and so it was. (Apparently some of this set of songs have been lost; including one appropriately titled ‘Mon mouchoir, hélas, est perdu’.)
The Habanera is well-known. These instruments seemed to me a little too refined for this relatively boisterous dance. Nevertheless, it was very competently played and the players produced pleasing tone; the flutist (or flautist if you prefer) had rather noisy breathing, but great control of dynamics and technique.
Jennifer Newth is, I think, a little older and more experienced than the other harpists. It was most enjoyable to watch her flowing and graceful technique. Her playing and that of her flute partner featured exquisite soft sounds; these were very musicianly performances.
The Farr work was lively and quirky, but very idiomatic for these instruments. It included some unusual writing for the harp solo passage. Some of it made me think of the American folk-song where each verse ends ‘The cat said fiddle-i-fee’. The piece was a fun way to end an interesting and enjoyable concert. I found, thanks to Google, that this last part refers to the Whangarei Falls (Taheke is Maori for waterfall), while the first describes Huka Falls, and the middle section a waterfall on the Farr family land in the Marlborough Sounds.
It was a pleasure to hear such wonderful playing and superb sounds from such young performers.