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FRIENDS OF MUSIC: KZNPO HARP TRIO (article first published : 2005-08-4)

A musical trio consisting of violin, cello and harp is distinctly unusual, and it is therefore quite a bold venture for three members of our KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra to form the KZNPO Harp Trio, a combination who performed for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The players were Hristo Kardjiev (violin), the leader of the orchestra, Kristiyan Chernev (cello) and Linor Griffith (harp). The harp, one of the most ancient of all instruments, is rarely heard in a solo capacity or in a small ensemble. It was hardly ever used, even in an orchestra, by Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, although Mozart did write a well-known concerto for flute and harp.

It is not surprising then that the harp’s role in this KZNPO Trio’s programme depended mainly on transcriptions from keyboard pieces. Whether this is a satisfactory substitution is, I think, a matter for debate. Linor Griffith, who was born in Wales and studied in London, is an excellent harpist, and her rapid finger-work was a pleasure to watch (rapid footwork, too, on the pedals which determine to a large extent the choice of notes). But a harp does not sound like a harpsichord or a piano, the original instruments in most of the pieces played by the trio. It is most effective when used to provide orchestral colour in impressionistic and atmospheric compositions, music that is far removed from the chamber music of Bach and Handel.

Be that as it may, the trio’s playing gave great pleasure to the small audience (there was, unfortunately, a major musical counter-attraction at the City Hall that night). They opened with a four-movement Sonata in E by Handel, a little-known work but one that demonstrates vividly the great master’s unerring sense of form and style. In a generally good performance the best playing came, I thought, in the stately Largo.

Likewise, in the J.S. Bach G minor Sonata the slow movement, Adagio, produced some exceptionally eloquent and expressive playing.

The twelfth violin sonata by the Italian baroque composer Arcangelo Correlli provided the most familiar music of the evening, this because it consists of variations on La Folia, a celebrated melody that has retained its hold on audiences for more than three centuries. This was most enjoyable. The version given by the trio included a lengthy and difficult cadenza for the violin which was handled with aplomb by Hristo Kardjiev, whose playing throughout the evening was, I think, the best I have ever heard from him as a soloist or chamber player.

The nineteenth century German composer Louis Spohr was represented by a sonata and a fantasy which were the only items on the programme written originally for harp (his wife was a distinguished harpist). Never heard of Spohr? There was a time when many musicians considered him superior to Beethoven. Tastes change.

Yet another arrangement for harp, of the Requiebros for cello and piano by the twentieth century Spanish cellist Gaspar Cassado, completed a consistently interesting programme that was well off the beaten track.

The evening’s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery Fund, was ten-year-old Samantha van Gysen of Durban, who, in spite of a few awkward moments, played the violin with assurance and skill. - Michael Green




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