CD Review

(United Kingdom)

February 1994
HARBACH (organ)

Barbara Harbach has chosen a strong field of short, approachable pieces (none over seven minutes long), some of which are very meaty indeed.

The recital opens with the striking On an Ancient Alleluia by the American Roberta Bitgood (b. 1908). It's just what its title claims: a short piece inspired by a sixteenth-century melody. An opening flourish gives way to a meditation on the simple material it is based on, and it concludes with a swinging toccata. Amy Beach's wan and wandering Prelude on an Old Folk Tune, her only organ composition, is unfortunately a rather characterless affair. Not so the chorale fantasy Psalm 104 and Fugue by Elizabeth Stirling (1819-95), acknowledged as the first woman to give organ recitals in England: it is basically a simple chordal statement of the subject, followed by a marvelously solid contrapuntal edifice, not strikingly new, but oh so well done. There follows the neo-Romantic Passacaglia of Edith Borroff (b. 1925) and Fanny Hensel's rather four-square Prelude in F major.

A title like that of Marga Richter's Quantum Quirks of a Quick Quaint Quark instantly arouses my suspicions. Take the piece as harmless fun, and I suppose she gets away with it. The Sonatina by Violet Archer, a Canadian now eight decades old, is an engaging piece of neo-Classical fun, unassuming and effective, and Clara Schumann's Prelude and Fugue in D minor, Op. 16, No. 3, shows something of the sobriety and strength which apparently characterised her piano playing.

The youngest composer in this collection is the American Gwyneth Walker, born in 1947: In Celebration isn't quite as good-hearted as the title suggests - there is, indeed, a deal of edginess among its glittering ostinatos.

Throughout Harbach plays superbly, and the recording, made in a church in Georgia, is both clear and powerful.

[Martin Anderson]

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