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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Four new or recent classical CDs reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Barbara Harbach: Chamber Music I

Style: Seven pieces for chamber ensemble, string quartet, woodwind quintet, and brass quintet by the noted harpsichordist, organist, professor, editor, and founder of Women in the Arts-St. Louis.

Worldview: That the under-recognized art of women (the silent films of Alice Guy Blaché and Lois Weber, for instance) can inspire the gifted composer as much as, and perhaps more than, traditional sources.

Overall quality: The relative severity of Harbach's chamber works simultaneously distinguishes them from her orchestral works and demonstrates the breadth, if not the depth, of her talent.

Barbara Harbach: Orchestral Music

Style: The subtitle: "Symphony, Reverie and Rhapsody"; five ­contemporary orchestral compositions by the prolific Professor Harbach.

Worldview: "Venus is the spirit of love, beauty, attractiveness and desire. . . . Veneration for Orchestra . . . celebrates these themes"; "Rhapsody Jardine vividly evokes . . . a musical vista of resonant colors and ­aromatic counterpoint (Harbach's liner notes).

Overall quality: Harbach's large-scale ­compositions evoke a ­richness of hospitality ­suggestive of spiritual gifts; one eagerly awaits the sequels implied by "Volume I."

Morton Feldman: The Viola in My Life

Style: The late Morton Feldman's 40-minute four-movement "determinate" (i.e., notated) indeterminate opus for viola and small ensemble (I-III) and orchestra (IV).

Worldview: "Perhaps the invitation is to imagine a variety of sonic perspective, of depth, that comes not from harmony, phrasing or motivic relationships but in a very direct way from crescendos, suggesting not a continuing quietness . . . but a rest disturbed" (the liner notes).

Overall quality: An aural hall of mirrors in which the time required to recognize one's reflection is as crucial as the recognition itself.

J.S. Bach: Weimar Preludes & Fugues

Style: Majestic organ ­renditions of seven ­preludes and fugues ­composed by Bach during his years as the court organist in Weimar, Germany, "or shortly thereafter."

Worldview: "One . . . senses in this music an unadulterated passion for organ playing. In the ­athletic pedal parts the feet are required to execute ­passages as difficult as those for the hands" (the liner notes).

Overall quality: Lippincott's virtuosity is such that in it one hears not the music's technical demands so much as the ends toward which those demands are necessary means.


Thanks to Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion I and II, the releasing of two albums at the same time is a gimmick usually associated with hubristic rock 'n' roll bands who barely have one album's worth of decent material. The synchronous appearance of Music of Barbara Harbach: Orchestral Music and Music of Barbara Harbach: Chamber Music I (MSR Classics), on the other hand, signals an opposite phenomenon-a composer of such abundant and diversified talent that two discs are, at best, merely adequate to reflect it.

If anyone in the world of serious music deserves the epithet "Renaissance woman," it's Harbach, a professor of music at the University of Missouri-St. Louis whose resumé reads like that of half a dozen women. That she has any time for composing is almost as impressive as her compositions, which, at their most arresting-"Arcadian Reverie," say, on Orchestral Music-seem intent on forging a new traditionalism with the finest pieces of the old.


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