Suzanna Klintcharova: La Belle Époque de la Harpe, Volume #1:  CD in Review

Suzanna Klintcharova: La Belle Époque de la Harpe, Volume #1: CD in Review

Suzanna Klintcharova: La Belle Époque de la Harpe, Volume #1
Suzanna Klintcharova, harp
VMS Zappel Music: VMS 231


The first of Suzanna Klintcharova’s trio of discs, La Belle Époque de la Harpe, is devoted exclusively to solo compositions for the harp by French composers, from the end of the 19th century through the first decades of the 20th.  It is a twofold revelation to hear this intelligent artist at work, and to encounter the wealth of delights this specific repertoire offers.

The selections presented in this compilation cover a variety of compositional styles, chosen from a relatively short historical period. In them one can almost trace the development of both French music and of harp technique in this era.  The Gallic fascination with Spanish rhythm, the use of ancient modes, and an adherence to triple meter are woven throughout these diverse works.

Ms. Klintcharova chose two giants of French music, Gabriel Fauré and Camille Saint-Saëns, to initiate this collection.  Fauré’s voice is endearingly familiar, yet what makes his Impromptu, Op. 86, distinctive are the extreme contrasts in his writing.  He exploits the full range of the instrument, ventures slightly off- center harmonically, and alternates between passages of great elegance and ones of stark drama.  By comparison, Saint-Saëns’s Fantasie, Op. 95, is attractive, but tamer in overall scope.  He was a gifted melodist, and in this piece there is a potpourri of beautiful tunes, from salon waltzes to troubadour chansons.  Ms. Klintcharova’s keen attention to voicing and articulation are a great asset in both works.  To round out the first part of this set, the harpist offers a charming interpretation of Gabriel Pierné’s Impromptu Caprice, Op. 9 ter, complete with musicalized birdcalls and a snappy bolero.  This would make a terrific recital encore – neat and accessible with a strong bravura finish.

With Albert Roussel’s Impromptu, Op. 21, written for the great harpist Lily Laskine, the artist takes us further along the path into modernist territory.  Roussel’s language is more dissonant and rhythmically driven, yet still maintains the hallmarks of French writing – modal melodies, Impressionistic harmonies, feathery glissandi.  Again, the harpist’s pristine technique and infallible sense of time are well suited to Roussel’s writing.  André Caplet’s Deux Divertissements, one in the French style and one in Spanish, reinforce my impression that Caplet is an underrated composer.   Based on this performance, and the one of his Conte Fantastique in the second CD of this set, Ms. Klintcharova is making a great case for his renewed popularity.    Caplet’s eccentric subtitles (i.e. ”with a graceful curve and well draped”) are worthy of Erik Satie.  His coloristic effects, including mordant metallic chords and an impressively accurate imitation of guitar strumming, are rendered perfectly by the harpist.

Ms. Klintcharova, as much an historian as an artist, scores a coup with the inclusion of Marcel Tournier’s less well-known Sonatine No. 2, Op. 45.  Tournier, a prolific performer, composer and educator, expands upon the traditions of French harp writing with fascinating results.  The Sonatine calls for a player with great facility and imagination, as it ranges from the most delicate, exotic dances, to full-blown Romanticism and exacting passagework.  Ms. Klintcharova has the stamina and talent to pull all this off.  It would be difficult to find a better introduction to the “Belle Époque” than the one provided here in this very satisfying recording.  I look forward to hearing more of Suzanna Klintcharova’s work in future ventures.

Suzanna Klintcharova: La Belle Époque de la Harpe, Volume #2 and 3: CD in Review

Suzanna Klintcharova: La Belle Époque de la Harpe, Volume #2 and 3
Suzanna Klintcharova, harp; Sofia Soloists Chamber Orchestra
VMS Zappel Music: VMS 241

In her recently released CD set La Belle Époque de la Harpe, Volume #2 and 3, the fine harpist Suzanna Klintcharova features four French composers.  They are the acknowledged masters, Debussy and Ravel, André Caplet, the brilliant orchestrator of several of Debussy’s works, and a venturesome creator in his own right, and Albert Roussel, renowned composer and teacher of Edgard Varèse and Bohuslav Martinů.

Conte Fantastique, a musical realization of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”, is a vivid representation of Caplet’s gifts.  Both the harp and string writing employ non-traditional techniques and a harmonic language that projects further into the twentieth century.  Ms. Klintcharova’s technical facility in this, as in everything, is beyond reproach.  Her rhythm is infallible, and her tone is clean and resonant. In addition, the stringent demands made on the strings are handled quite well, which is no mean feat.

Ravel’s Introduction et Allegro and Debussy’s Danses Sacrée et Profane are two cornerstones of the French repertory and both are given excellent treatment here by Ms. Klintcharova and the Sofia Soloists Chamber Orchestra.  While both works contain extended solo passages and some meaty challenges for the harp, the Ravel is more intricate and interwoven amongst the players, while the Debussy, by its nature, is a more blended, harmonious composition.  Though I found the interpretation in the Ravel somewhat on the conservative side, the playing was distinctive, most especially from the flutist Gueorgui  Spassov. Ms. Klintcharova, a generous and intelligent collaborator, chooses her partners well.

These impressions of unity in musicality and expression amongst the players were only strengthened in the final disc of the recording.  In Debussy’s Sonata No.2 for Flute, Viola, and Harp, I was particularly impressed by the violist Ognyan Konstantinov, whose beautiful tone quality and intonation were a pleasure to hear.  Both Ms. Klintcharova and flutist Andrash Adorjan an employed a wide color palette to produce some magical effects. The players’ approach did not work quite so well, however, in Carlos Salzedo’s arrangement of the Ravel Sonatine for Piano, renamed Sonatine en Trio, for flute, cello and harp.  This may be attributable to the inherent difficulties of transferring piano literature to chamber music.  I missed the pristine delicacy of the original, and found that in some passages, choices in articulation and dynamic did not reflect the spirit of piano version.  In general, it suffered from over interpretation.

The finale of the third disc, Roussel’s Sérénade for Flute, String Trio and Harp, Op. 30, was a revelation, and a rollicking finish to this recording.  By far the most modernistic composition of the group, it has a rhythmic drive and metric complexity that proved exhilarating.  Quoting freely from French folk song, and incorporating the flavor of early jazz, this chamber work occupies an unusual niche in the French repertory.  Once again, Ms. Klintcharova and her partners were at the top of their game.  This CD set is a consistently rewarding addition to the catalogue of French harp music.