Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis is a sensational performer, and her new collaboration with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Ward Stare is scintillating, to use a word that hearkens back to one of her much earlier recordings ("Scintillation.")
The release was recorded with a live audience in Rochester, and it captures the energy and electricity of being in the audience for a really special performance – without sacrificing sound quality.
There are two world premiere recordings on the CD: Patrick Harlin's "Rapture," inspired in part by a phenomenon that ultra-cavers experience after weeks of light deprivation. Harlin writes that the title refers to "extreme emotion" rather than a religious event.
Samuel Barber's Symphony No. 1 is also on the release, a lyrical and intense one-movement work from 1936 that he dedicated to his partner, Gian Carlo Menotti. Stare and the RPO give the piece an enthusiastic and enlightening treatment.
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The pièce de résistance is the Harp Concerto by Jennifer Higdon, who wrote and dedicated the concerto to Kondonassis. The work was commissioned by a consortium of orchestras - not just Rochester, but Harrisburg, Baton Rouge, Fargo-Moorhead, Lansing and Oklahoma as well.
Here's what the harpist said about working with the composer: "We agreed on many aspects of what a new harp concerto should be – strong, agile, lyrical, feisty, energetic and even heroic; it should be challenging but really fun to play, and it should have a groove that allows the harpist to catch a musical wave with the orchestra once in a while. Jennifer managed all this and more, delivering a work that is all at once powerful, heart-wrenching, whimsical, and original.”
Kondonassis elicits maximum tone, sparkle, energy, virtuosity and beauty(!) from her instrument; she seems to conjure up effortless power, coupling that with ravishing nuance and subtlety. Higdon's new concerto is a gorgeous showcase for the instrument, and conductor Ward Stare leads the RPO with an effervescence that makes for a great partnership with the soloist.