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A wondrous ancient sound

The harp is an ancient instrument _ it may be derived somehow from the bow and arrow _ that is misunderstood by most non-harpists. And because few composers have played the harp, its repertoire is pretty slim.

That's one reason German harpist Jutta Zoff's Virtuoso Music for Harp is such an attractive addition to the record catalog. She plays some of the finest music written for harp, as well as works transcribed for the instrument.

Several selections are by composers with a direct connection to the harp. Spohr, a leading composer, violinist and conductor in the first half of the 19th century, wrote the Fantasia in C minor for his wife, Dorette Scheidler, a well-known harpist in her day.

French composer Tournier played the instrument, and there are three of his impressionist-style pieces on the album.

Perhaps the most impressive work of all, however, was written by non-harpist Hindemith. His Sonata for Harp, composed in 1939, is given a striking performance. Also on the disc are enjoyble works of Beethoven, Prokofiev, Liszt and others.

Zoff plays in a vigorous manner that belies all the cliches about harp music being soporific and suitable for elevators.

Ann Hobson Pilot, principal harpist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is victimized by poor recording engineering in Mathias' Harp Concerto. Balances between soloist and orchestra, as well as the volume levels, seem off.

Pilot's solo part is overshadowed by the orchestral accompaniment _ played by the English Chamber Orchestra, under American conductor Isaiah Jackson _ in an atmospheric work that the Welsh composer described as "not unconnected with the land and seascapes of South West Wales."

Much better is Ginastera's Harp Concerto, one of the great works for the instrument, always keeping it in the forefront. The Argentinian composer, who described this as "the most difficult work I have ever written," brings out the emotional range of the harp. Instead of mood music, his Harp Concerto is lively and rhythmic.

AUDIO REVIEW

Virtuoso Music for Harp; Jutta Zoff, harp (Berlin Classics) +++++

Mathias: Harp Concerto; Ginastera: Harp Concerto; Ann Hobson Pilot, harp; English Chamber Orchestra/Isaiah Jackson (Koch) +++

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