Fantasies & Impromptus
Lavinia Meijer here offers a delightful sequence of pieces for solo harp by mostly French composers. The harp has long been a favourite instrument in France and it was a Frenchman, Sébastien Erard, who, in the early years of the 19th century, introduced the double-action harp, so allowing a full chromatic range of notes to be played. All these pieces in different ways exploit that development.
Meijer opens with the Impromptu-caprice of Gabriel Pierné, who was persuaded to write this charming piece for a harp competition in 1885, introducing a display of fireworks. It was more predictable that Louis Spohr would write for the harp as he married a harpist, who inspired this Fantaisie, a set of variations on “Je suis encore dans mon printemps”,
a melody taken from an opera by Méhul.
Saint-Saëns’s Fantaisie was written in 1895, commissioned, like the Pierné, to be played at a harp competition. This, too, is charming, with plenty of arpeggio work and some exquisite pianissimos, beautifully played. The Impromptu of Fauré was inspired by a poem of Verlaine, “Une châtelaine en sa tour”, with broken chords and hints of medieval music.
Gabriel Verdalle and Johannes Snoer were both harpists who wrote pieces for their own use, not great works but ones which effectively exploit the harp’s potential. One can imagine that both Verdalle’s tuneful Impromptu No 2 and Snoer’s Variations on a Dutch Folksong are very attractive to virtuosos. Albert Roussel’s Impromptu is a spectacular piece specifically written for the great French harpist of the interwar years, Lily Laskine, while the easily tuneful Impromptu of Reinhold Glière illustrates in its approachability how he managed to survive throughout the Soviet era. An excellent collection for anyone who loves the harp.