April 1st is the final day of the Dutch Harp Festival, a wonderful festival-competition that has been taking place in Utrecht all this week. I thought it would be nice to make April's Camac Voice an artist who is beginning today's programme in Utrecht - Anneleen Lenaerts. Anneleen will be giving a lunchtime recital featuring several works by Chopin and Liszt, from her recent recording of transcriptions of these two composers.
Anneleen herself needs little biographical introduction to most of you in the harp world. She has an impressive roll (I've just counted up fifteen major ones) of international prizes, starting at a very young age, and crowned with first prize in the Lily Laskine Competition (2005) at the age of eighteen. Still only twenty-three, at the end of 2010 she was appointed Principal Harp with the Vienna Philharmonic.
All that speaks for itself, so in today's presentation I want to focus on her Chopin and Liszt disc itself.
Transcriptions are a particularly thorny dilemna for harpists. On the one hand, nobody can pretend that our original repertoire is always the equal of that of the violin or piano. It can be frustrating to be a good musician who has ended up on the harp, because a good musician wants to play good music. Frequently, then, you turn to transcription to expand the repertoire available to you: it's a bigger topic for harpists than it is for many other instruments. The more transcriptions you play, the more you encounter what can be the dangerous side of the coin - comparisons with the works' original scoring.
You can play it safer by arranging relatively minor works that don’t otherwise attract much attention, like the Valses Poeticos by Granados. If you throw caution to the wind and attempt some of the greatest pieces of music the world has ever known, like Bach’s Chaconne or the Goldberg Variations, you have to be pretty sure you’re not going to end up hurtling down the cliff-face of musical hubris. Your technique has to be good enough to render any extra technical harp difficulties inaudible, and your artistry has to be up there with the music’s original recordings. It is a dangerous job, but there are artists who can do it.
Chopin and Liszt are both hailed as composers who belong, above all, to the piano. Liszt is perhaps the greatest technician the instrument has ever known, and Rubinstein described Chopin as the "soul of the piano". A harp disc that consists solely of works by these composers, especially including major works such as Chopin’s great Nocturne Op.48? That’s a tall order. You can almost hear the critics sharpening their knives as you read the press release.
In the case of Anneleen’s recording, the critics will have to use those knives for something else. This album is fantastic. This is not a disc of harp showpieces niftily rendered by a recent competition winner, this is - by any standards, piano or otherwise - a great performance of great music. The entire programme, so difficult on so many levels, sounds like the easiest, more natural thing in the world. This is, as we were reminded during recent masterclasses in Paris and London, the mark of an artist. It is the ability to handle such Herculean tasks, engage with grown-up emotions in the music, and yet communicate them with the simplicity and freedom of a child.