Les Jardin des Paons – The Garden of Peacocks

Jennifer Swartz, Lori Gemmell, harps

Atma Classique ACD2 2539


Les Jardins des Paons

Les Jardin des Paons is entirely devoted to a very small repertory: music for two harps. So small, in fact, that harpists Jennifer Swartz and Lori Gemmell include a transcription of a concert work and an arrangement of a pop song to fill out their disc. While the balance of the CD is by relatively minor figures, mostly harpist-composers, Swartz and Gemmell perform the fare convincingly enough to mitigate some curious programming choices.

True, the transcription of Ottorno Respighi’s Antiche Danze e Arie  by Stanley Chaloupka (1922-2002), harpist for many years with the LA Philharmonic, is a deft one. Respighi’s interest in ancient instruments and styles suits the harp duo nicely. The suite features several Respighi signatures: evocative neo-medievalism, lilting dance rhythms, and supple modality.

The barnstormer repertory example is the Grand Duet by John Thomas (1826-1913). Admired by Berlioz and Liszt, the harpist-composer wrote gorgeously for the instrument. Swart and Gemmell thrive with this kind of idiomatic writing underneath their fingers: their playing here is glorious. The title work, by French harpist Bernard Andrí¨s (b. 1941), is also well written, emphasizing lush glissandi, whole-tone scales, and other Impressionist devices í  la Ravel.

Andrew Creegan is best known for his work as keyboardist of the rock group Barenaked Ladies. In recent years, he’s studied composition at McGill and composed several concert works. “Going West” is pleasant enough; its unswervingly diatonic arpeggiations are designed take the listener on a panethnic tour: of Bali, Africa, and the American West. While these rhythmic inflections are palpable on the surface, it’s not entirely clear why they’re juxtaposed. More interesting as a world music experiment is Montreal harpist Caroline Lizzotte’s trope of Indian music on “Raga,” which includes effective incorporation of percussive effects.

The disc closes with an arrangement of Eric Clapton’s “Signe.” It’s a lovely cherubic arrangement by Kevin Fox, but its inclusion leads one to wonder whether a commissioning project for harp duo isn’t in order.

One Response to “Harp duo plays repertoire, transcriptions, and … Clapton?”
  1. Nathan Brock says:

    The Respighi strikes me as a particularly odd choice since the original work is itself mainly a transcription of Renaissance pieces (therefore the title). So it’s an arrangement of an arrangement?
    On a side note, two harps could be made to do some awesome cluster-y things in the right hands; and harps have a wide range of articulations at their disposal. This group, from the description here, seems temperamentally wrong for it, but I could imagine an amazing Xenakis-manqué piece for two harps…

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