Saturday 11 October 2014

A highly recommended recital from harpist Katrina Szederkényi on a new release from MSR Classics

Canada harpist, Katrina Szederkényi is the winner of numerous prizes at international competitions in Austria, UK, Belgium, Hungary and Russia. She started playing the harp at the age of twelve and was accepted for full-time solo instrumental studies at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Austria after only four years. She went on to study under Professor Françoise Friedrich at the Hochschule für Musik in Frankfurt.  

An active orchestral musician, Szederkényi has performed in numerous notable orchestras, including the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and has worked with prominent conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Riccardo Muti, Christian Thielemann, Herbert Blomstedt and Riccardo Chailly. As a chamber musician, she has performed with members of the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Gewandhausorchester.

Szederkényi is also highly active in broadening the harpist's repertoire, for both soloists and chamber musicians. In 2009, she premiered Poème by Michael Kimbell, a work for violin and harp written for her and Nandor Szederkényi, her father and chamber music partner.

Kimbell's Ballade Arctique, also written for her, was premiered in 2013 and is now given its World Premiere Recording on a new release from MSR Classics, entitled Fantasias and Fugues, which also includes other works for solo harp by Bach, Elias Parish-Alvars, Turina and Henriette Renie.

MS 1527

Katrina Szederkényi brings out Bach’s musical lines very well in the Fantasia – Recitativo of J S Bach’s (1685-1750) Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903. Though the lower register of the harp doesn’t quite have the clarity of a keyboard instrument Szederkényi brings a new beauty to these pieces. Her technique is wonderful but she also creates a sense of wonder, a fine rubato, a myriad of colours and textures as well as a fine sense of structure. The following Fugue has a lightness and joy with quite magnetic playing, drawing one in. There is a terrific forward flow and lovely tone.

Elias Parish-Alvars (1808-1849) was born in Teignmouth, Devon and gave his first concert in Totnes in 1818 and later studied privately with the harpist Nicolas Bochsa. Although he wrote other works, including a piano concerto dedicated to Liszt, much of his modest output was for the harp such as the Grande Fantaisie et Variations de Bravoure sur des Motifs Italiens, Op.57. It opens with some lovely flourishes to which are added attractive little motifs, beautifully wrought by Katrina Szederkényi. Soon a real melody emerges to which this harpist brings her fine phrasing and layering of musical lines. The music rises through a series of variations each bringing a new delight. Szederkényi’s playing is tremendous in some of the particularly florid and virtuosic passages.

Michael Kimble’s (b.1946) Ballade Arctique (2013) is based on a story concerning the indigenous Inuit people of Northern Canada, a tale of a hunter who refused to share his kill with a starving man. It opens with a rather mysterious theme making a fine contrast to the preceding work. This harpist brings all of her fine skills and musicianship to reveal the many beauties of this piece. The music soon runs into a faster passage full of fantasy and invention before slowing to its original slow and mysterious nature whilst later picking up for a rhythmic, fugal passage. This is wonderfully descriptive music, brilliantly played.

Joaquín Turina’s (1882-1949) Tocata y Fuga – Ciclo Pianístico, Op.50 (1928) is given here in an arrangement by Nicanor Zabaleta (1907-1993). In two parts, the Tocata is light in mood with a Latin feel to which this harpist brings a warm glow, at times songful, with some lovely fluency in the faster passages before the final flourish. The second part is a terrific Fuga around an Iberian sounding theme to which Szederkényi brings her attention to every nuance and detail with a lovely sense of completion as the music returns full circle towards the end.

The French harpist, Henriette Renie (1875-1956) started playing the harp at the age of eight and later studied with Alphonse Hasselmans (1845-1912) at the Paris Conservatoire. Her Légende d’après Les elfes de Leconte de Lisle (1904) is based on an epic poem by Leconte de Lisle concerning the abduction of a maiden by a wicked fairy queen rescued by her Prince only to die at his feet. The music brings much fantasy, rising from an opening that is full of expectation and cloaked in mystery. Soon the pace picks up in a lively theme overlaid with arabesques. Again it is this harpist’s ability to draw such descriptive playing by her subtle use of colours, textures and fine little details often delicate, hushed filigree passages with such a sense of drama and mystery. The music moves through a variety of descriptive passages before a flourishing coda.

Katrina Szederkényi is one of the finest harpists I have heard. She is well recorded at the iStrings Studio, Heulengbach, Austria; indeed the recording brings out some lovely timbres and details. There are helpful booklet notes. Highly recommended.

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