9 Perfect Soundtrack

"Hainen’s presentation breathes from one to the next…"


Elizabeth Hainen, harp; David DePeters, vibes. Avie Records, 2017

Elizabeth Hainen writes, “Home is where your harp is,” explaining the title of her newest release, simply titled Home. It was a series of blizzards that completely shut down Philadelphia, leaving her stranded indoors, but not without modern comforts, like food, electricity, wine (!) and, of course, her harp. Without concerts to prepare for and nothing else pressing, I like to imagine this mini-sabbatical in her downtown brownstone. A fire lights the room, the sun glints off the snow, her dog curled at her pedals as a cozily-clad Ms. Hainen plays her favorites just for herself. Truth is, every miniature on this disc is one she has pulled out at the appropriate moment for visiting guests who might have listened with their own wine glass in hand.

Though coming from a totally personal place, the selections on this disc create a perfect soundtrack – snowbound or on a summer’s jog. All just the right length and elegantly leading from one to the next. For the first three – the exquisitely rendered Allegro moderato from Handel’s Harp Concerto, Rameau’s L’Egyptienne and Mysterious Barricades of Couperin, there is clearly a key and historical relationship – but her connections are far more cleverly artistic than a simple laundry list of harp’s top ten list. Ms. Hainen’s presentation breathes from one to the next, as though each were written as a movement in a larger work. Particularly noteworthy is the juxtaposition of Bach to Phillip Glass. Ms Hainen’s tactile tone has a physical presence that feels close and glowing with an inner light. She makes an argument for the harp being the instrument in Bach’s mind when he wrote his preludes. This resonance carries into the enigmatic world of Glass’s Metamorphosis with otherworldly results. As the Glass fades to Bach, you would think these two composers crossed centuries to discuss technique.

The collection has a certain mood, even in the fast technique-heavy pieces, centered, dreamy, on-the-verge of brooding. In Camille Saint-Saens’ arrangement of Bach’s Violin Sonata, Ms. Hainen masterfully expands the range of the harp, calibrating her crescendos and diminuendos to create the effect of a larger, more symphonic instrument.

Stand-outs include the snappy, carefree Cycling Along With You by Daryl Sherman, the Chinese folksong Amid Flowers…, and the wondrous jewel by Marcel Grandjany—Colorado Trail. My boots have hiked its length, and it was a delight to hear her tasty rendition of this reverent testament for nature.

Ms. Hainen is joined on two numbers by her husband, David DePeters on vibes. His arrangement of Debussy’s Claire de Lune is especially luxurious, as both the harp and vibraphone share a similar acoustic in their long decay, as if one tossed a pebble into a lake and the moonlight were reflected in ever growing waves.


About Author

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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