Bertrand Plays the Chromatic Harp


RAVEL: Jeux d’eau (arr. Bertrand). FAURÉ: Une chatelaine en sa tour. HOFFMANN: Quintet for Harp & String Quartet.* GORDON: Jeux de Création. DEBUSSY: Danse sacrée et profane.* CAPLET: Divertissements. Conte Fantastique / Anne-Sophie Bertrand, hp; *L’Ensemble Ondine / Naxos 8.551444

On this new release, French-American harpist Anne-Sophie Bertrand plays a fairly diverse program of music for harp, going back as far as E.T.A. Hoffmann, the older colleague and promoter of Beethoven, and as far forward as American composer Geoffrey Gordon (b. 1968).

My initial impression of Bertrand is of a good harp player, average talent, nothing much to write home about. Nicanor Zabaleta she isn’t, but she’s clearly good enough to play these pieces. At least she injects some energy into her playing, which I appreciated very much. Her performance of the Hoffmann Harp Quintet is on a par with that of Maria Nordmann with violinist Jacques Chestern and the Trio à Cordes Françaix, which is to say pretty good, although if memory serves me correctly the strings on the Nordmann recording played with more energy (and certainly with a lot less echo in the recording).

Absolutely the most interesting piece on this entire album is Gordon’s Jeux de Création, music that is not just modern (though mostly in a pentatonic, French-styled sort of way) but very creative and highly atmospheric. This is clearly the one and only reason to justify this CD’s existence on our planet.

I only wish I could be more enthusiastic about this release; I certainly went to review it with not only an open mind but the exectation that I would hear something really great, but in the end I didn’t see much reason to make it except that Bertrand probably has an “angel” who likes her playing and paid for the sessions. It’s just an OK disc but for the Gordon piece. None of the other performances made me sit up and take notice. It just toodles along in its own harp-y kind of way; a perfect record to play on your local FM classical radio station to mollify the masses, except that you’ll never hear the Gordon piece on the air. Why Bertrand couldn’t have included at least two more pieces like it, I don’t know, but if she had it probably would have made the whole enterprise worthwhile.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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