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CD reviews

The harp in the Classical era

[I] "The Harp in the Vienna of Maria Theresa"
Margret Köll, harp; Marcello Gatti, transverse flute; Il Furibondo
rec: Sept 3 - 5 & 15 - 16, 2019, Nomaglio, Chiesa di San Bartolomeo
Accent - ACC 24369 (© 2020) (67'48")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Christoph Willibald VON GLUCK (1714-1787): Orfeo ed Euridice (Che farò senza Euridice, arr for harp by Robert Nicholas-Charles BOCHSA, 1789-1856); Orphée et Euridice (Danse des Champs Elysées); Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): Trio for violin, viola and cello in D (after Sonata in D, H XVI,42); Franz Joseph HAYDN or Joseph Aloys SCHMITTBAUR (1718-1809): Quartet for transverse flute, viola, cello and harp No. 6 in F (H XIV,F1); Johann Baptist KRUMPHOLZ (1742-1790): Sonata for harp in B flat; Georg Christoph WAGENSEIL (1715-1777): Concerto for keyboard/harp, 2 violins and bass No. 2 in G; Sonata I for two violins and cello/harpsichord in B flat

[IF] Liana Mosca, Gianni de Rosa, violin, viola; Marcello Scandelli, cello
with: Federica Biribicchi, violin

[II] Giacomo Gotifredo FERRARI (1763 - 1842): "Duets for Harp and Piano"
Paola Perrucci, harp; Carlo Mazzoli, fortepiano; Elisa Bognetti, Luca Delpriori, horna
rec: Nov 2018 & Feb 2019, Bologna, Studio Carlo Mazzoli
Dynamic - CDS7953 (© 2022) (76'38")
Liner-notes: E/IT
Cover, track-list & booklet

Duet No. 1 op. 13; Duet No. 2 op. 20; Duet No. 3 op. 27a; Duet No. 4 op. 32a

The harp has played a major role in music history. It is one of the oldest instruments and was held in high esteem, especially as the Bible tells that it was King David's instrument. In the 17th century it was often used in the basso continuo, and many pieces were written for keyboard or harp as alternatives, for instance in and around Naples in the time of Carlo Gesualdo. Towards the end of the 17th century it seems to have taken a back seat, mainly due to its technical limitations. It received a boost when Jacob Hochbrucker created a harp with a pedal which allowed the player to raise the tuning of the strings by a half tone. This so-called 'single-action harp' was presented in 1728 to Emperor Charles VI in Vienna. This city became one of the centres of harp playing, alongside Paris and later London.

The harp's role from the mid-18th century onwards was not fundamentally different from that in the early 17th century. It was used as an alternative to the harpsichord. The present disc, which focuses on the harp in Vienna, includes two specimens. The first is the Quartet in F, which is included in the catalogue of Haydn's oeuvre, but is very likely a piece from the pen of Joseph Aloys Schmitbaur. It is scored for transverse flute, viola, cello and harpsichord or harp. The latter is more or less the soloist, whereas the other instruments are given an accompanying role. The second piece is by Georg Christoph Wagenseil, one of the main keyboard players of his time, who composed a large repertoire for keyboard, either solo or in ensemble, and was also a sought-after keyboard teacher. The Concerto in G is intended for the harpsichord, but the harp is specifically mentioned as an alternative ("for the harpsichord, but also works very well on the harp"). This undoubtedly attests to the growing popularity of the harp in his time. A second piece by Wagenseil is one of six sonatas for two violins and cello or harpsichord. Here there is no specific indication of the harp as an alternative to the keyboard, but it seems entirely justified to use it as such. If I am not mistaken, the cello also participates, which is a little inconsistent.

Whereas in the 17th century very little music was specifically intended for the harp, in the second half of the 18th century a large repertoire for it was written, often by composers who played it themselves. One of them was Johan Baptist Krumpholz, who was of Bohemian origin and was part of the Esterházy orchestra under Haydn's direction from 1773 to 1776. Later he moved to Paris where he developed into one of the leading performers on the harp. The programme includes the Sonata in B flat from his pen. Another French virtuoso was Robert Nicholas-Charles Bochsa, who had also his roots in Bohemia, where his father came from, who settled in Lyon and acted as a music seller in Paris. In 1813 Bochsa was appointed harpist to Napoleon and in 1816 to Louis XVIII, a clear token of the high status of the harp. Arrangements were very common at the time, and the fact that he made an arrangement of the famous aria of Orpheus from Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice, 'Che farò senza Euridice', attests to the fame of this work, which was originally performed in Vienna and was later a success in a French adaptation in Paris. This is further documented by the 'Danse des Champs Elysées' from this work, in which Gluck employed the harp in the orchestra.

The programme is rounded off with a trio by Haydn, which is scored for violin, viola and cello. In this work the harp does not participate, and one wonders why it was included. The reason may well be that it sheds light on the environment in which the pieces for or with harp were written. The trio is an arrangement of a keyboard sonata, but the liner-notes don't mention who was responsible for this arrangement. The addition of an opus number suggests that it was written in Haydn's own time.

Although in recent times several discs with music for harp from the late 18th and early 19th centuries have been released, it is still playing a rather marginal role in modern concert life. Chamber music with harp is seldom performed and recorded. This disc is a quite interesting addition to the discography and makes curious about other music of this kind. Margret Köll is a specialist on the historical harp and that shows here with engaging and idiomatic performances on the copy of a 'Louis XVI' harp (unfortunately the booklet does not offer any specific information about the instrument). Marcello Gatti and Il Furibondi deliver excellent performances of the flute and string parts.

Most music lovers may never have heard of Giacomo Gotifredo Ferrari, who is the composer to whom the second disc is devoted. He was born in Rovereto in the Trentino region, which was at the time part of Austria. In 1784 he moved to Naples, where he studied with, among others, Paisiello. He then settled in Paris, where he became acquainted with some of the leading figures of the musical world. In 1788 he was appointed Master of the Harpsichord at the Théâtre de Monsieur. However, as he was a firm opponent of the French Revolution, he moved to London in 1792. There he came into contact with Haydn and worked as a vocal teacher among the higher echelons of society. He also published his compositions. Although he was a player of the keyboard, he was not a virtuoso, and this explains why he focused on composing instead, especially of music for the keyboard. In his music he also largely avoided virtuosity, which made them suitable for the amateurs of his days.

In his memoirs (Aneddoti piacevoli e interessanti occorsi nella vita di Giacomo Gotifredo Ferrari, di Roveredo, 1830), he mentioned that he "published a large number of music for piano, for harp, solo or together, or accompanied by the flute, violin or cello". Among these works are the four duets that are the subject of the Dynamic disc, which was released at the occasion of the celebration of his death, two hundred years ago. The harp was quite popular at the time, not only in Vienna and Paris, as we have seen, but also in London. One of the composers of music for harp was Jan Ladislav Dussek, who often performed together with his wife, the harpist Sophia Corri. However, as the number of harpists was probably not that large, most pieces for the harp were written in a way which allowed them to be played at the keyboard, which at the late 18th century was mostly the fortepiano.

That is also the case with the four duets performed here. They can be played either on two fortepianos or on fortepiano and harp. Ferrari was an advocate of the classical style, and especially admired the music of Mozart. Three of the duets consist of four movements. The first movement is an allegro, the last a rondo. The third movement is a scherzo. The second is either in a modest (andantino) or slow (larghetto, adagio) tempo. The second duet is different in that is has only three movements: allegro, adagio, rondo allegro.

The third and fourth duets are special in that they include two parts for horns. These don't play a independent role; they rather add colour and dynamics to particular notes or passages, especially chords. Even so, this is a rather curious combination, and Danilo Prefumo, in his liner-notes, rightly states that the characteristics of the various instruments in these combinations can only be preserved with the use of period instruments. With modern instruments, the piano and the horns would be far too loud and the instruments would certainly not blend as well as they do here.

This disc is a really interesting addition to the repertoire of the harp. Thanks to the activities of some representatives of the historical harp, the classical repertoire is not entirely unknown. Masumi Nagasawa (recording for Et'cetera) is one of them. Paola Perrucci is an excellent performer, who plays here a double-action harp with eight pedals by Érard (c1811-20). Carlo Mazzoli is her equal on the fortepiano, an instrument by Michael Weiss from around 1800. Given that these works date from between 1790 and 1810, these are undoubtedly appropriate instruments. They are supported by two fine hornists, who play copies of natural horns from the 19th century.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Marcello Gatti
Margret Köll
Il Furibondo

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