Classical CD Reviews
BARBARA HARBACH: Orchestral Music – MSR Classics BARBARA HARBACH: Chamber Music I – MSR Classics
Published on March 11, 2008
BARBARA HARBACH: Chamber Music I = American Solstice; Transformations for string quartet; Forces at Play; Carondelet Caprice; Fantasy and Fugue on Swing Low, Sweet Chariot for woodwind quintet; Separately Together – Synesthesia for Chamber Ens.; Rhapsody Ritmico for brass quintet – Ensemble Istropolis/Moyzes String Quartet/Woodwind Quintet/Brass Quintet/Kirk Trevor, dir. – MSR Classics 1253, 65:32 [Distr. by Albany] *****:
I have several recordings on the Gasparo label of Barbara Harbach performing a variety of works on both harpsichord and organ, but had no idea she was also a noted composer with a large catalog of works in many different areas. She has also recorded for the Naxos, Albany, Kingdom and Northeastern labels, and has had many keyboard works written for and dedicated to her. She currently is a professor of music at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Harbach’s compositional style is very diatonic and accessible but never corny or of what you would call the ‘light music’ area. On the strength of both of these CDs (and it looks there will be at least a second volume of the chamber works), her original works would be a very well-received part of many concert programs. Venerations seems to have a spiritual slant, with three movements marked Blessings, Charity & Grace. The three short Frontier Fancies have the proper Western feeling to them, but without copying Copland and others who have pioneered that area. The rhapsody for oboe is a lovely nearly ten-minute work. The closing short symphony was inspired by Willa Cather’s novel One of Ours, concerning a WW I American war hero. Its center movement depicts an interlude in the war, a celebration in a small French town which has just been liberated from the Germans.
The Slovakian orchestra sounds well-rehearsed and comfortable with this very American symphonic music, and the sonics are first rate.
The chamber works by Harbach are even more varied and maintain interest switching between several different ensembles. The opening American Solstice is another work in the American frontier style – based on a fiddle tune. And the influence of folk Americana is also strong in the eight very short movements of Transformations for string quartet. My favorite work on this CD was Forces At Play, conceived as a modern ballet. Its combination of three woodwinds, three strings, piano and percussion making for a very pleasing orchestration. The instrumental line of each one weaves thru the work like a dancer thru a chorus line. Separately Together began as an accompaniment to a 1913 silent film A House Divided. Exploring the atmosphere and emotions of the film’s images, its ensemble is about the same as Forces At Play, but without the percussion.
- John Sunier