Resonances: Music for Harp: The Marshall McGuire Collection

Marshall McGuire, harp
Classical, Early Music, New Music
ABC Classics 481 1482. 2 CDs
Reviewed by , August 1st, 2015

Marshall Maguire is one of our national treasures in the field of music performance, particularly in new classical music where he has contributed brilliantly to many modernist and experimental scores. This double CD release (mainly) of solo harp music represents a rather different side of Maguire’s artistic practice.

One could say that none of the pieces presented here is intended to challenge the listener much, and that the CD seems aimed at a conservative classical music audience. However, apart from a few familiar tunes by Bach and Handel, the selection is not of popular classics.

Marshall McGuire 2

The thirty-five works on this release are roughly divided between the relatively old and the relatively new. There are seventeen works by European Renaissance and Baroque composers (Purcell, Bach, Caccini, Handel, Johnson, Croft, Mudarra, Bononcini, Paradies, Petzold and Stolzel); and eighteen works by 20th Century composers (Cage, Koehne, Sculthorpe, Britten, Pärt, Finnissy, Glanville-Hicks, Vine, Tournier, and Boyd).

We can see from this list evidence of McGuire’s commitment to playing the music of our times, and, in particular, the music of Australian composers.

Most of the works are arrangements for harp of pieces originally written for other media such as keyboards or fretted instruments. McGuire himself has skilfully done the bulk of these arrangements.

Of particular interest to me are the works originally written for harp.

John Cage’s In a Landscape (1948), curiously scored “for piano or harp solo”, is a delightful tonal piece, totally out of character with what one expects of this composer.

The virtuosic Vers la source dans le bois (1922) by harpist/composer Marcel Tournier (1979-1951) is perhaps the most instrumentally idiomatic piece in the selection.

Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for solo harp (1939) is no less challenging technically and explores rapidly changing modalities with great invention. By contrast, in his five-movement Suite for solo harp Op. 83 (1969), Benjamin Britten, pushes the instrument to its chromatic limits.

Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ three-movement Sonata for solo harp (1952), is an attractive work, more tonal in its orientation than the Britten or Hindemith pieces.

Marshall McGuire maintains a consistently high standard of performance over the two CDs. He is joined on two of the works by Jane Edwards (soprano) and by Riley Lee (shakuhachi) on one. Maguire’s and Lee’s arrangement of Anne Boyd’s Goldfish through Summer Rain (1978) is the stand-out track for me.

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