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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Danse sacrée et danse profane (1904) [9:59]
Petite Suite (1888-89) arr. Elizabeth Hainen [15:06]
Sonata for flute, viola and harp (1915) [17:04]
André CAPLET (1878-1925)
Divertissements (1924): À la Française in C [4:42]: À l’espagnole in E flat [5:44]
Conte fantastique (La Masque de la mort rouge) (1923) [16:51]
Elizabeth Hainen (harp): Jeffrey Khaner (flute): Roberto Díaz (viola)
IRIS Orchestra/Michael Stern
rec. March 2013, Gould Hall, Curtis Institute of Music
AVIE AV2285 [70:04]

This is a particularly fine example of good programming and sensitive and thoughtful chamber musicianship. The conjunction of Debussy and Caplet works very well, the introduction of the latter being especially welcome. There are two pieces that demand the participation of the IRIS Orchestra, directed by Michael Stern, the first being the Danse sacrée et danse profane. Elizabeth Hainen, whose photograph adorns the booklet cover, is the central focus of this and all other performances. She has been solo harpist of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1994. The sound here, in a recording made in the Gould Hall of the Curtis Institute, is appropriately diaphanous but certainly has sufficient body. Effectively balanced, with the harp neither spotlit nor swamped, the performance is finely judged from all perspectives. And whilst I retain a fondness for that old live 1941 recording made by harpist extraordinaire Marcel Grandjany and the Budapest Quartet, one must acknowledge that we are not comparing like with like. It’s on Bridge, by the way.

Hainen herself has arranged the Petite Suite for harp. The sound here is deliberately a little more forward but sonorities remain delightfully rich. Few would decry the arrangement which sounds like a more-than-effective contribution to the harpist’s art. The Sonata for flute, viola and harp introduces flautist Jeffrey Khaner and violist Roberto Díaz. Both are well-known colleagues of the harpist and no strangers to recording, and I have reviewed both men’s work over the years. Khaner has been the Philadelphia’s principal flute for almost a quarter of a century, and Díaz is now the President of Curtis, having been the former principal viola of the Philadelphia. The recording of the Sonata is as successful as one would have hoped; light, well-balanced, refined, and full of colour and fancy.

Caplet is represented first by Divertissements, about which, regarding the first, À la française, the word ‘glistening’ is the mot juste - it belongs to Hainen in her booklet note. The dramatic guitar-strumming evocations in the second of the panel, the Spanish movement, have more than a whiff of Seville and move from mere whispers of sound to extrovert Iberian passion. The Légende was composed for chromatic harp and orchestra in 1908 and later turned into Conte fantastique for pedal harp or piano and string quartet in 1923. The literary source is Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death and Caplet’s means are almost cinematic in the juddering string writing and angst. The feverish intensity never lets up, the knocks on the soundboard of the harp startling in their doom-laden portent. This is a vivid dance of death, a kind of lurid tone poem of evil, brilliantly realised here.

It caps this disc excellently, tracing a course from diaphanous to devilry, and all impeccably performed.

Jonathan Woolf