GMCD 7294 – Elfenreigen – Fairy Round Dance
Henner Eppel – Flute, Christian Topp – Harp
MusicWeb Monday November 21 05
This looked like being a specialist disc, but Hilse, Pierné and perhaps Hess, Tournier and Spohr (in that order) should make it worthwhile to a wider public …
Henner Eppel provides the excellent notes for this disc and sensibly discusses the works in chronological order. Was it his own idea to put them on the disc higgledy-piggledy as listed above or did he have a surprise when he saw the finished product? As a matter of fact, the chronological leaps back and forward divide the disc up into three or four mini-programmes and, the combination of flute and harp not being a very varied one, I took the hint and gratefully enjoyed three mini-sessions in alternation with other discs. I recommend that others do likewise.
The lack of variety is no fault of the artists who play well and tastefully in music which hardly gives scope for more. The “Elfenreigen” is a very pleasing little piece, delicately evocative. As it is the first of 3 Tonstücke I wonder if the other two might not have gone on the disc in preference to the longwinded and repetitive Bochsa Nocturne. Since this latter is the weakest item on the CD (admittedly the theme itself is ear-catching), it is rather a pity it is placed first. Sweetly pleasant, too, are the two Tournier pieces while the more classical sonatas are not without charm and the Spohr is actually quite strong. Until the end I was compelled to reflect that, alas for the flautist, the beautiful Pierné Impromptu-Caprice for solo harp was the most memorable item, but the Hilse proved a real find, music with strength, imagination and personality, an essential piece for this rare combination: of the works included here only the Bochsa, Hess and Hilse were originally for flute and harp; the Tournier, Krumpholtz and Spohr were for violin and harp and the C.P.E. Bach was for flute and thorough bass, so the harp was only one of the several acceptable accompaniments. But they all work perfectly well as presented here. The notes tell us a little quaintly that “despite modern research it has not been possible to obtain very much useful information about B Hilse and his life or about any other potential compositions by him”. I’ve been wondering ever since what a “potential composition” might (potentially) sound like; if anybody could find some other actual ones (the composer of an op.6 would logically have written at least five) I should be (potentially) very interested to hear them.
In one sense, the chronological peculiarity of this sequence is less disturbing than it would be with any other combination. Since the harp, unlike the piano, has no dampers, its music tends to be accompanied by an impressionist haze no matter what period it belongs to. Conversely, also unlike the piano, it has no sustaining pedal and its undamped strings sustain much less long than the piano, so it tends to reduce the impressionist haze surrounding music which might be expected to have one. In other words, it tends to make all music sound rather similar. Or so I was thinking until Hilse came along and showed that music for flute and harp can have a distinct profile.
The notes, as I said, are by Eppel himself, and they have been given a very fluent and idiomatic translation by C. Topp and B. Meech, with the one proviso that the pair appear not to familiar with musical terminology. The phrase “general bass accompaniment” will be intelligible only to those English readers who know that the thorough bass or basso continuo is called Generalbass in German. Likewise “sonatas for flute and obligatory harpsichord” sound an unlikely prison recreation until we realize that it must mean “flute and harpsichord obbligato”.
This looked like being a specialist disc, but Hilse, Pierné and perhaps Hess, Tournier and Spohr (in that order) should make it worthwhile to a wider public. But don’t hear it all in one go if you’re not a specialist.
Contrary to what many may think the unique sounds of the flute and harp are not a discovery of the French impressionists towards the end of the 19th century. The Ancient Egyptians used them for feasts and religious celebrations and from the many paintings of the Middle Ages, there is ample proof of a centuries-old popularity and existence.
Still, the 19th century is of paramount importance in the technical development of the two instruments, as it was from 1810 onwards that vital breakthroughs were made in both their construction and playing possibilities.
By the 1880’s a level of almost technical perfection was reached. The collection on this disc covers a considerable array of composers and spans from the end of the 18th century to the closing of the 20th. The album gets its name from one of the pieces included; Willy Hess’s ‘Elfenreigen’, Op. 79 which, in a free translation, means ‘Fairy round dance’ and what a sheer delight it is. This is angelic music of incomparable beauty by some well known and other less famous names.
I was particularly taken in by Krumpholz’s Sonata Op. 8 #5 and Tournier’s ‘Two Romantic Preludes;’, Op. 17, but the remaining six pieces also manage to conjure up an aura of almost visionary joy. Henner Eppel and Christian Topp play with their feet on the ground, but their hearts are on a higher plain. Inspiring interpretations filled with rarely-encountered sensitive nobility. The concise but informative notes by Eppel are an added bonus to an album superbly engineered and enchantingly realized.
Music Web Tuesday September 27 05
There’s little here that is intellectually taxing but a lot that is dextrous and ear titillating …
The violinist Marie Hall was, so it’s said, discovered playing in the street with her harpist father. It’s not too far away from the flute and harp combination, though its incarnation in this disc is altogether more elegant and gratifying than a street corner. Eppel and Topp have constructed a pleasing programme that moves with a certain effortless élan from C.P.E. Bach to the recently deceased Willy Hess (obviously not the Willy Hess, violinist, that Marie Hall would have known). There’s little here that is intellectually taxing but a lot that is dextrous and ear titillating.
Bochsa’s contribution for instance is in effect a mini operatic scena with its rippling harp arpeggios, a slow introduction and a faster recitative section. It makes a suitably bold opener and is followed by Tournier’s 1909 pieces originally written for – yes – violin and harp. The transposition works well and the music is suffused with late Romanticism and generous lyricism. Into this milieu Hess’ 1972 Elfenreigen, the work that gives the disc its title, fits very nicely. Hess, though he died in 1997 at the age of ninety-one, was perfectly happy writing tuneful, unpretentious music. Which is fine by me – this piece reminded me a tiny bit of the music for the television series The Secret Garden (Ronald Binge’s The Watermill) and that’s also fine by me.
Back to 1780 for the Bohemian suicide Krumpholtz whose sonata is rather generic, though not unpleasant, until some perky and melodically captivating writing in the finale. Believing in spanning the centuries and criss-crossing them with abandon we get Pierné’s gorgeous Impromptu-Caprice for solo harp. If you disregard the rather academic title, and it would be better to do so, you’ll hear delicious curlicues, arpeggios – and a bag full of lyrical writing. Only a Frenchman, writing for solo harp, could pack so many changeable moods into so short a space of time. Next to it Spohr sounds rather dutiful, though this was a work he wrote for himself (violin) to play with his wife (harp). It’s very classical but sports a lovely air in the second andante of the second movement. The C.P.E. Bach sonata is melodically attractive and the Hilse Suite is unusual. A sliver of an introduction opens out nicely; this is an appealing work, dating possibly from the earlier part of the twentieth century – not much is known about it or the composer – though one can assume that he didn’t get to too many orgies if his sedate Bacchanale is anything to go by. An appealing work however and a pleasurable rediscovery.