Yolanda Kondonassis does not play pretty harp music. Her performances are marked with intensity and energy — and her choice of repertoire continually pushes the limits. Jennifer Higdon wrote her a concerto that gives Kondonassis free reign to express herself — and she does.
The four-movement Harp Concerto has Kondonassis do just about everything with the instrument — except play dreamy glissandos. I especially enjoyed the third movement, “Lullaby.” Higdon pairs the harp with a variety of solo instruments for an intimate chamber piece of quiet beauty.
The fourth movement, “Rap Knock” uses the harp as a percussion instrument, holding its own in a percussion ensemble. It also features some incredibly rapid — and intricate — passages. Kondonassis plays it all impeccably. In interviews, she talks about her enthusiasm for this work, and it shows in the performance.
“Rapture” by Patrick Harlan isn’t Biblical in the slightest. After weeks underground, cavers lose their circadian rhythms and enter a disoriented emotional state termed the rapture. Harlan’s work recreates that experience. “Rapture” drifts from one amorphous configuration to another, with bursts of extreme intensity.
Also included is Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1, which provides a nice stylistic bridge between Higdon and Harlan.
Ward Stare and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra deliver energetic performances throughout. This is their first recording in five years, and well worth the wait.
Jennifer Higdon: Harp Concerto; Samuel Barber: Symphony No. 1; Patrick Harlin: Rapture
Yolanda Kondonassis, harp
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra; Ward Stare, conductor