Harbach Vol. 9: Orchestral Music II
DAVID ANGUS, conductor
LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
Nicholas Betts, solo trumpet
Vesselin Gellev, violin I
Andrew Storey, violin II
Cyrille Mercier, viola
Rebecca Gilliver, violoncello
Laurence Lovelle, double bass
LPO Leader: Vesselin Gellev
“[ * * * *] All these works are noteworthy, and well played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of David Angus. I like Harbach’s musical style and inventiveness. She has a sound all her own, she’s not doing a reduction of Copland or Ives… Recording-wise, this stereo disc sounds just fine. It’s very natural, separations are sharp, but not overblown. Strings are very smooth. A high- resolution option would be nice, but the CD sounds excellent. The sound is well-captured.”
Mel Martin, Audiophile Audition [December 2015]
“The four symphonic works on Barbara Harbach’s new disc are decidedly cinematic… all are programmatic and unabashedly approachable… The London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Angus delivers compelling and cogent performances… Harbach’s symphonic music as represented here is listenable, skillfully composed, well-orchestrated, well performed, and beautifully recorded. The program notes are useful and the CD cover striking. Those who are usually not fans of contemporary classical music will probably be enchanted.”
Elizabeth Vercoe, IAWM Journal [2015, Vol.21 No.1]
“…the performances are first-rate throughout… the skill with which Harbach handles the large-scale works here is attractive in many ways… Harbach uses an orchestra with skill and creates more-accessible pieces than many contemporary composers produce.”
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad [September 2014]
Soundly Constructed: Orchestral music by Barbara Harbach – heard by HOWARD SMITH
‘… the LPO is wholly admirable in this music …’
This second MSR Classics recording of Barbara Harbach‘s orchestral music follows an earlier programme played by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra with conductor Kirk Trevor (MS 1252).
The present release has three concise 3-movement symphonies and Harbach’s atmospheric Night Soundings for Orchestra lasting fifteen-and-a-half minutes. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is directed by Boston Lyric Opera conductor David Angus, and illustrates Harbach’s soundly constructed tonal style.
Composer, harpsichordist, organist and teacher, Harbach is Professor of Music at the University of Missouri-St Louis. She founded Women in the Arts-St Louis to highlight women’s work and gain more performances for musicians and composers. In 1989 she founded the small Vivace Press, publishing music by underrepresented composers.
Night Soundings for Orchestra is largely programmatic, with its first movement, ‘Cloak of Darkness’, full of shadows and menace. In ‘Notturno’ the darkness is less immediately apparent with faint similarities to Bartók‘s extraordinary ‘night music‘. The final movement, ‘Midnight Tango’, brings to life the intrinsic Latin rhythm, popularized in the 1920s and given a revived lease of life by Ástor Piazzolla and Gidon Kremer.
The Gateway Festival Symphony begins with ‘Confluencity’, in which two great rivers — the Missouri and Mississippi — meet some eight miles north of the St Louis Arch. Harbach suggests the many moods and fusion at the conjunction: the site of Confluence Point State Park, home for a myriad waterfowl.
‘Sunset: Saint Louis’ is inspired by the poem of the city‘s ill-fated poet, Sara Teasdale (1884-1933). It begins:
Hushed in the smoky haze of summer sunset
When I came home again from far off places
How many times I saw my western city
Dream by her river
‘After Forever’ is bookended with a clarion call trumpet. Harbach was reminded of the dramatic story surrounding Dred and Harriet Scott, the St Louis slaves who sued for freedom only to be denied by the 1857 US Supreme Court. Missouri ranks third in Civil War battles and engagements. The tuneful central section is particularly effective.
The Jubilee Symphony was commissioned for the University of Missouri-St Louis fiftieth jubilee anniversary, 1963-2013. Its first movement, titled ‘Bellerive’, refers to Bellerive Country Club, a golf country club moved to its current site with a newly designed course, opened on Memorial Day 1960.
‘Mirth Day Fiesta’ is unique to the University where Mexican influences are much in evidence. Here cultures and ethnicities are showcased. The focus is on Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for ‘fifth of May’), a celebration held on 5 May. Mexicans and Americans also often see the day as a source of pride: one way they can honor their ethnicity. Listen for hints of Mariachi music.
The symphony culminates with ‘Triton’s Ascending’ in which Harbach’s fugal writing is present almost throughout. This movement brings the programme to an impressive conclusion and though nothing here is especially profound, much remains to admire.
As one might reasonably expect, the LPO is wholly admirable in this music, and David Angus is clearly at ease in Harbach’s accessible works. Angus spent his early years in Belfast. He was a boy chorister at King‘s College, Cambridge under Sir David Willcocks and finished his training with a fellowship in conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music, where he won several prizes for his opera conducting.
His professional career began as a repetiteur with Opera North (UK), before Chorus Master and Staff Conductor for Glyndebourne Festival Opera with
numerous engagements throughout Europe.
Howard Smith, Music & Vision 
A fresh composer/performer who deserves to be better known.
Composer Barbara Harbach passed me by somehow. The CD under review is volume 9 in a series of her compositions from MSR Classics. If this disc is a good indicator, I would probably really enjoy hearing more of her music.
Dr. Harbach is Professor of Music at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, with a large catalog of works, including symphonies, operas, string orchestra, musicals, works for chamber ensembles, film scores, modern ballet, pieces for organ, harpsichord and piano; choral anthems; and many arrangements for brass and organ of various Baroque works. She also has recorded many CDs of both harpsichord and organ. This disc contains four orchestral works, some tied thematically to her residence in Missouri. Having grown up around St.
Louis, I found that of more than passing interest.
The first work, Night Soundings, is a somewhat mystical work, describing the zone between light and darkness. The last movement is called Midnight Tango and has a South American motif. Next is the Gateway Festival Symphony, a work that premiered in 2013. I would describe it as a three-movement tone poem describing scenes around Missouri, such as the meeting of the great rivers near St. Louis. It’s followed by A State Divided- A Missouri Symphony, reflecting the tension that resulted from part of the state being allied with the north, and southern Missouri being part of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The CD closes with Jubilee Symphony, which pays tribute to the founding of the University of Missouri.
All these works are noteworthy, and well played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of David Angus. I like Harbach’s musical style and inventiveness. She has a sound all her own, she’s not doing a reduction of Copland or Ives.
Recording-wise, this stereo disc sounds just fine. It’s very natural, separations are sharp, but not overblown. Strings are very smooth. A high-resolution option would be nice, but the CD sounds excellent. It was recorded in Henry Wood Hall in London, an acoustic space I’m familiar with and I’ve heard multiple live performances there. The sound is well-captured.
I’ll have to explore more of Ms. Harbach’s compositions, and I’m always happy to discover a previously unheard talent.
Mel Martin, Audiophile Audition