Harp Concertos—Naoko Yoshino

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10 Stunningly Presented

"There is an instant comfort in hearing her play, as though she and her harp are one and you alone have been extended a personal invitation to listen."

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Harp Concertos

Naoko Yoshino, harp; Orchestra d’Auvergne, Roberto Forés Veses, conductor. Aparte, 2016.

Naoko Yoshino says, “I never feel lonely on stage, because my harp is always with me.” There is an instant comfort in hearing her play, as though she and her harp are one and you alone have been extended a personal invitation to listen. Perhaps her incredibly natural and easy way of playing comes from the fact that her mother was a harpist. In a way, Ms. Yoshino is Baby Mozart in the flesh, telling Harp Column a number of years ago that she can’t recall a time when the harp was not in her life. “Love the harp and love the music!” she goes on to say in that same interview, and from the very first notes of her latest disc Harp Concertos, it is love at first listen.

The recording comes from love, or at least a deep and satisfying musical relationship. Ms. Yoshino has tremendous admiration and respect for “her musical soul mate,” conductor Roberto Forés Veses, and it was with their deeply connected work ethic and understanding that this recording came to be. It certainly helps to be of like mind, and to have such a top-notch back-up band in the Orchestra d’Auvergne.

The four works on this new album are related—two are by Spaniards with ties to France, one is by a Frenchman, and the final by an Italian of Spanish decent. Two are arrangements, either by the composer or with his blessing. And they all contain a certain sound, from the fin-de-siecle and early 20th century when the harp was gaining its foothold as a solo instrument in its own right.

Most of us are familiar with the most famous guitar concerto of all time, Rodrigo’s Aranjuez Concerto and its mournful English horn solo from the slow movement. It may have been the convergence of events-—the concerto’s fame and the emergence of a harp soloist of the stature of Nicanor Zabaleta—that caused Rodrigo to arrange it for harp a quarter century after the work’s premiere. It’s a natural choice, but it would never have worked had Zabaleta not possessed such a silky and clear tone. Ms. Yoshino carries the mantle for her predecessor with a luxurious tone that speaks with clarity and rides above the orchestra, but magically fits into its texture. The most important element of good harp technique, Ms. Yoshino preaches, is “a beautiful and clean sound, and suppleness.” Grace, lithe, yielding, these are not always easy to achieve on an instrument that is plucked, and yet she manages a kind of through-line as a singer—sustained, smooth, and complex.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was said to have provided music for over 200 films for which he received no credit. His Hollywood buddies called him Teddy, much to this aristocrat’s consternation. His harp concertino comes from an earlier time before he was forced out of Italy by Mussolini simply because of his Jewish heritage, but it contains cinematic elements and a nod to his Spanish heritage, almost a logical extension of the Aranjuez, even ending with a sultry Jota.

Joaquín Turina set his theme and variations for guitar and requested that the arrangement emphasize the harp as less its own voice and more of a guitar look-alike. Ms. Yoshino manages to tighten up the bloom of the harp and darken the sound. It’s magic to the ears. Her Debussy Danses also finds a different color, one slightly out of focus, ancient, and looking back to the time of an entirely different instrument—the chromatic harp with one string per note. She seems to emphasize the brighter qualities of the instrument to great effect. This is a stunningly presented set of concertos and one that ought to find its way into every library.

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Alison Young is a classical music host and producer at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media. She left a successful career as a flutist a decade ago after she developed a neurological disorder, but before then enjoyed many years traveling the world giving recitals, performing concertos, playing with some of the finest orchestras, and recording her own discs. Nowadays, Young spins discs and is always on the lookout for the next best thing. You can contact her at ayoung@mpr.org.

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