Harbach Vol. 1: Orchestral Music I

Record Label: MSR Classics
Release Date: July 2007

Veneration for Orchestra
Frontier Fancies for Violin and Orchestra
Arcadian Reverie for String Orchestra
Rhapsody Jardine for Oboe and String Orchestra
One of Ours – A Cather Symphony.

Harbach – Vol. I, MSR 1252 Orchestral Music–Symphony, Reverie & Rhapsody
Frantiek Novotn violin, Cynthia Green Libby oboe, Kirk Trevor, conductor Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
RECORDING OF THE YEAR 2008 Bob Briggs, MusicWeb International ~ January 2009

CRITICS CHOICE 2008 American Record Guide ~ January / February 2009

MUSOC.ORG 2009 Classics of Contemporary Art Music ~ November 2009

Veneration for Orchestra I. Blessings: Gift of Blood II. Charity-Caress III. Grace: Pleasure Heart
Frontier Fancies for Violin and Orchestra I. Fiddleflirt II. Twilight Dream III. Dancedevil
Arcadian Reverie for String Orchestra
Rhapsody Jardine for Oboe and String Orchestra
One of Ours – A Cather Symphony I. On Lovely Creek II. Autumn in Beaufort III. Honor at Boar’s Head


“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, her original works would be a very well-received part of many concert programs… The Slovakian orchestra sounds well-rehearsed and comfortable with this very American symphonic music, and the sonics are first rate.”
John Sunier, Audiophile Audition [2008]

“Unlike most modern composers, Barbara Harbach writes music that is unapologetically lyrical and melodic. She has an elegant approach to line, and it results in truly beautiful pieces. Often, she states her theme in a straightforward manner and then restates segments of it by having it played in various formations by different combinations of instruments. She maintains a conservative framework, however. Within it she writes joyful tunes and develops them enthusiastically.”
Maria Nockin, Fanfare [July/August 2012]

“Barbara Harbach is a prolific composer, whose music achieves an immediate emotional connection to the listener. None of this cerebral “written for other composers” mentality for her! Yet a traversal of the three discs under review here has convinced me that she has her own voice, and has something significant to speak in musical terms to anyone willing to listen… Her pedigree, to be sure, is impressive… Mind you, her music is very tonal, and will not offend ears even slightly sensitive to dissonance. I am happy to say that Harbach proves that there is still something valid to say in a tonal musical language. This shouldn’t be surprising in light of the fact that the Baroque era, after all, lasted a good 150 years. Why should neoromanticism be stifled more quickly than that? If you enjoy the music of such composers as Bohuslav Martinů, Walter Piston, Jean Sibelius, and John Ireland, Harbach will definitely be worth checking out.”
David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare [July/August 2012]

“As [Veneration] progresses, one gets a sense of the expertise involved here: the skilled but subtle use of counterpoint that never calls attention to itself… Frontier Fancies is memorable for its sense of longing as well as the caprice of the final “Dancedevil.” Harbach is blessed with magnificent soloists, both here and in the oboe pastoral Rhapsody Jardine, in which Cynthia Green Libby pipes most appealingly. The symphony (inspired by Willa Cather) is notable for Harbach’s ability to make her point swiftly (none of the three movements last over five minutes) and effectively. The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra plays with great belief in the music; recording quality is of top quality… vibrant, stirring music that begs to be heard. Harbach is an individual voice of great skill.”
Colin Clarke, Fanfare [July/August 2012]

RECORDING OF THE YEAR 2008 Bob Briggs, MusicWeb International [January 2009]

CRITICS CHOICE 2008 American Record Guide [January/February 2009]

“Barbara Harbach is… a remarkably prolific American composer… In the first chords of Veneration, Harbach presents her listeners with aural candy; delightful harmonies orchestrated by lush string textures effectively paint the evocative movement titles: I. Blessings: Gift of Blood, II. Charity-Caress, and III. Grace: Pleasure Heart. The 1st movement’s gushing lyricism gives way to the imitative nature of the 2nd, whose original incarnation was a piece for cello and voice. The last movement effectively synthesizes the thematic elements of the piece within its own contrapuntal architecture. This delightfully rewarding piece belies her film score background, imbued with the characteristics of a storyteller of evocative imagery… The following Frontier Fancies is equally intelligently crafted, successfully conveying frontier images with its driving rhythms and Copland-esque harmonies, led superbly by violinist František Novotný. It is a many-hued mosaic of themes inspired by America’s heartland, simultaneously jubilant and pensive. The movements each have their own interactions between soloist and orchestra, as outlined by Harbach in the CD liner notes: “In ‘Fiddleflirt,’ the two are protagonists in a duel of speed and energy. ‘Twilight Dream’ is an evocative aria and lush respite before the wild tarantella of ‘Dancedevil’.” The succeeding Arcadian Reverie is essentially a lush theme and variations on a pastoral theme that harkens very closely to “Simple Gifts,” though not explicitly. The interplay of melodic motives as the piece draws towards its conclusion displays Harbach’s compositional creative mastery. In Rhapsody Jardine, renowned oboist Cynthia Green Libby makes full use of the oboe’s expressive tessitura as she produces a rich sound comparable to a watercolor tapestry in its sheer beauty and scope of shading. Harbach often employs numerous themes which are then unified at the piece’s conclusion, which she does here with a plaintive duet between oboe and cello followed by an orchestral unison statement of the fugual subject that characterized the latter half of the piece. Driven by Libby’s superb musicianship, the piece is a remarkable tableau… In her description of how One of Ours – a Cather Symphony came into being, Harbach betrays an immense respect for Willa Cather as well as a personal connection to the characters and events that make up the novel One of Ours. She spins the story of Cather’s protagonist Claude Wheeler in different stages of his experience in World War I. “On Lovely Creek” is a bucolic portrayal of Claude in his homeland of Nebraska, happily naive and content in the world he knows. “Autumn in Beaufort” depicts a respite to the war, a minor celebration in a town recently liberated from the Germans. The notes of Harbach’s composition become the characters that are enjoying the simple things in life recently denied in the period of suffering and war. The final “Honor at Boar’s Head” is a memoriam of the thousands of lives lost to preserve the American freedom we hold so dear. The entire piece is uniquely evocative and features a more introspective expression from Harbach.”
Robert Myers, Classical Voice of New England [June 2009]

“Anyone who read my previous review of Harbach’s chamber music will know that I am a fan. All I need say is that this disk is well worth having for, if anything, it’s even better and more interesting than the previous disk. So if you’re with me, you can stop reading now and rush to your local record shop and buy an hour’s–worth of the most glorious music you’ll hear this year…[Harbach’s] music is tuneful, grateful to play and a joy to listen to. I described the music on the earlier CD as ”white note” music, implying a new simplicity, and it celebrates the great American outdoors. The works recorded here, as befits compositions for orchestra, use larger thoughts and gestures than the chamber works, but her country is never far from her feelings. The (Willa) Cather Symphony…is very special indeed and needs to be heard. The recording is bright and clear with a good perspective on the orchestra and the performances are obviously of the very highest standard. The notes are straight forward and lead one through the music but don’t get technical, nor tell you too much – so, in general, the music is allowed to speak for itself. Harbach’s music is in a class of its own and this is a CD which must not be missed at any cost.”
Bob Briggs, MusicWeb International [September 2008]

“Harbach’s music is on the whole remarkably gentle and comfortable-sounding, even comforting – never fierce even when vigorous–and there is very little music I would put in such a category. [Harbach’s music is] forthright, uncomplicated, honest, spiritually generous, rugged yet accessible, it dwells under a big sky and within wide open spaces. [Veneration] is proof that sincerity can be expressed in music… Kirk Trevor and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra leave me confident that they have left none of the music’s stones unturned; the engineering is similarly professional…”
James Tobin, Classical.com [July 2008]

“Harbach’s compositional style is very diatonic and accessible… her original works would be a very well-received part of many concert programs… The Slovakian orchestra sounds well-rehearsed and comfortable with this very American symphonic music, and the sonics are first rate.”
John Sunier, Audiophile Audition [May 2008]

“[Harbach] is a master organist and harpsichordist…She’s a dead-on-heart-and-soul American romanticist in the Copland-Hanson-Harris mold… Harbach’s music astonished me for its heavy reliance on the lyric and the beautifully (and cogently) framed melodic line. I could listen to her music for hours. This music is so uniquely characterized with its own sense of beauty that it makes me wonder where this woman has been all our lives. This is music that really needs to be heard. A great deal of credit for the success of the music on [this record] goes to the conductor and the sound engineers. They have done their best to present the composer, who should someday-if there is any justice in the universe-become a household name. You have got to hear this woman’s music if you’re a fan of mid-century American romanticism. She brings something entirely new to the table.”
American Record Guide [March / April 2008]

“Fundamentally based on American folk and hymn-tune style, these attractive pieces occasionally suggest Copland in film-score mode and are often quiet, contemplative and peaceful in spirit. The melodies are lovely, the orchestration never thick or gaudy, emotion present but never heart-on-sleeve; in short, dignified and instantly approachable orchestral works.”
Records International [December 2007]

“Extensively active as composer, performer, academician, musicologist, and publicist, Barbara Harbach’s contributions to American music have been noteworthy.”
All Music Guide [December 2007]