A debut recording is a statement of intent, and when the artist in question comes trailing as many accolades as the young Viennese harpist Elisabeth Plank, it’s one worth taking seriously. ‘The harp is still “suffering” from the effects of the nineteenth century’, writes Plank, but she acknowledges the importance of the 19th-century virtuoso repertoire, and Romantic showpieces by Glinka, Wilhelm Posse and Henriette Renié are the cornerstones of her programme. Substantial 20th-century works provide a necessary contrast, with transcriptions of piano pieces by Schubert and Liszt helping to reinforce the shadowy, moonlit connotations of the disc’s title.
That’s appropriate, because Plank has a real command of light and shade. She’s adept at creating musical perspective; a soft-edged, almost muted accompaniment against which foreground figures glint and sing in shades that can range from the brilliant to the sombre, often within the same phrase. She evokes a suitably gothic atmosphere in Renié’s ‘légende’ Les elfes and a vivid clarity in Nino Rota’s Sarabanda e toccata; and there’s an intriguingly menacing air about Plank’s own transcription of Schubert’s ‘Nachtstück’, D672.
If I’ve a reservation, it’s that Plank’s rubato can sometimes sap the energy from the musical argument. The sounds are ravishing; but the overall mood is languorous, and a greater sense of momentum might have helped Hindemith’s Harp Sonata make its points more clearly. This is a thoughtful and beautifully played disc, but the most striking moment comes in the forthright gestures and subtle layering of Ami Maayani’s Maqamat (1984) – a work that is, as Plank puts it, ‘far removed from the concept of “beautiful sound”’. By this point, you might well be grateful for that.