Barbara Harbach – Portraits in Sound

This volume brings listeners up to date with Barbara Harbach’s symphonic output. It features symphonies No. 7-10, composed between 2014 and 2015.

Harbach is an economical symphonist — the works are uniformly short, focused, and efficiently orchestrated. All four symphonies follow a straight-forward 3-movement fast-slow-fast structure. Yet with all these constraints, Harbach shows a great deal of imagination and variety.

Symphony No. 7, “O, Pioneer” uses music from her opera of the same name. Harbach manages to evoke the great expanse of the Nebraska prairie without for a moment sounding like Aaron Copland. No mean feat.

I have to admit I didn’t enjoy Symphony No. 8 “The Scarlet Letter” as much as the others. The three movements are character studies of Hester Prynne, Roger Chillingworth, and Arthur Dimmesdale. To my ears, only the middle movement, Chillngsorth captured the emotional turmoil of the character. The outer movements, though pleasant, weren’t as engaging.

Symphony No. 9, “Celestial Symphony” also repurposes music from another source. This time, Harbach’s score to the silent film  “The Birth Life, and Death of Christ” (which I reviewed in its original form). The movie is a series of tableaux, and the original score for 13 instruments had a static quality to it.

Recast in symphonic form, Harbach explores and more thoroughly develops her material. I think it’s a successful reworking. The music sounds more dynamic, and the enhanced instrumental palette allows for more nuanced musical expression.

The final work, “Symphony for Ferguson” fell just short of the mark, I think. Though I would be hard-pressed to suggest a composer who might come closer. Harbach, a member of the University of Missouri-St. Louis faculty was commissioned to write a symphony of healing in the wake of the Ferguson riots. The music needed to speak to all the citizens of the community.

Harbach wove together tunes such as “Wade in the Water,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and ‘Chester,” to suggest that blending of cultures. While skillfully written, to my ears it just sounded like a medley rather than a work of great emotional appeal. Even the final movement, adopting the jazzy “St. Louis Blues,” didn’t quite gel for me.

Overall, though, I enjoyed this release. Barbara Harbach is a composer who follows her own muse, and I continue to admire her originality.

Music of Barbara Harbach, Volume 11 
Orchestral Music III – Portraits in Sound 
Symphonies Nos. 7-10
London Philharmonic Orchestra; David Angus, conductor
MSR Classics

More Recent Posts

  • Joseph Bodin de Boismortier Chamber Music all business

    Tags: , , , , , ,

    Sometimes it’s easy to forget that music is a business — even classical music. It’s something Joseph Bodin de Boismortier always remembered. And it made him wealthy. Boismortier was active in the early 1700s and a contemporary of Rameau. He was one of the first composers to be successful without a patron. Louis XV granted […]

  • Dec 19: WTJU Holiday Party and Vinyl Takeover at Potters Craft Cider

    Come celebrate the season with your favorite community radio station! On Thursday, December 19th, 6 – 9 p.m., WTJU is taking over Potter’s Craft Cider, at their grand new tasting room at 1350 Arrowhead Valley Rd, just a few minutes south of Charlottesville on Route 29. This year’s WTJU Holiday Party coincides with our Vinyl Takeover series, […]

  • The Celebratory Suites of Pancho Vladigerov

    Tags: , ,

    In Bulgaria, Pancho Vladigerov is almost considered the founder of classical music. Like Bedrich Smetana and Antonin Dvorak, he deftly blended his country’s folk music with Western classical traditions. And like those composers, he created music of both national and international appeal. The characteristic odd meters of Slavic folk music gives Vladigerov’s compositions a bubbling […]

  • Angela on the Arts stops by All That Jazz, Dec 5

    Trumpeter John D’earth and bass clarinetist Michelle Oliva will join Rus Perry on All That Jazz to present their new release “Within.”  Together with violist Bonnie Gordon, D’earth and Oliva make up the improvisational trio Angela On The Arts.

  • New Jazz Adds – 12/3/2019

    New Jazz Adds – 12/3/2019 Darren Barrett – The EVI Sessions – Mr. Steiner (Self-produced): “On Mr. Steiner, Barrett delves into the world of synthesis guru Nyle Steiner, credited for the invention of the EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument) as well as the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), made popular by saxophonist Michael Brecker. Created in the 70s, the […]

  • New Blues & Soul Adds – 12/3/2019

    New Blues & Soul Adds – 12/3/2019 New Blues: Diane Blue – Look For The Light (Regina Royale Records): “Ms. Blue is a soul-stirring vocalist, skillful harmonica player whose powerful delivery of Soul, Blues & R&B is captivating. Her performances are charismatic and heartfelt, whether fronting her own world-class band or singing alongside master Bluesman Ronnie […]