Composers: Higdon, Barber and Harlin
Performers: Yolanda Kondonassis harp, Rochester Philharmonic/Ward Stare
Catalogue Number: Azica Azica71327

Here is an American disc which covers rapture in three different forms. Jennifer Higdon’s Harp Concerto reflects this all-American virtue, one generally associated with religion but here depicted as an experience of extreme human emotion. In fact Patrick Harlin’s Rapture places him firmly underground and in a cave with others where a state of rapture is firmly embraced. Barber’s short First Symphony from the 1930s, receiving as fine a performance as any on disc, takes its cue from traditional religious rapture. However, so unique, well-constructed and witty, it is the Higdon here that wins, hands down.

I was initially drawn to this recording by the soloist – one Yolanda Kondonassis. I’d originally discovered her on Youtube via her previous Arica records release of the monumental Harp Concerto by the Alberto Ginastera (who was equally fascinated by stretching the limitations of the instrument). An excellent example of how Higdon does it here lies in the final movement of the work. Higdon has written concerti for many solo instruments and the recording of the Violin Concerto by Hilary Hahn on DG is a good place to start; but so is the Harp Concerto here. Like Ginastera, Higdon has extended the instrument beyond its usual playing parameters with a myriad percussion-like effects encountered on this amazing journey. Will the instrument ever be the same again? In the second movement of the work we’re reminded of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, whilst in the work’s final movement Higdon has the percussion section of the orchestra providing an almost jazz-like groove.

This disc is an example of local music-making at its finest as it can only operate in the US, and there are a myriad teaching and entertaining ensembles like this one out there fully able to provide top-notch accompaniment where it’s needed.