"There is a something peaceful—and I agree with her own assessment—something sacred in this music, and she honors that beautifully."
Margit Anna Süss, harp. Campanella Musica, 2016.
Schubert: Complete Impromptus is also a set of pieces not originally written for the harp, but Margit Anna Süss approaches piano music by Schubert from a completely different perspective. In order to avoid the sounds flowing “into each other like the colors of an Emil Nolde painting,” Ms. Süss has developed a technique whereby she dampens each string. In this way, she sounds far more like a piano, the voice leading is clear, the articulation crisp and decisive, while the silvery and open tone of the harp gives her reading of Schubert: Complete Impromptus an original and slightly more raw and personal touch.
Ms. Süss says she has always been fascinated with Schubert’s music. After all, he mentions the harp in numerous songs, he wrote a melodrama by the name The Magic Harp, and even some Schubert lieder professionals, like Matthias Goerne, prefer harp to piano accompaniment as they seek an added intimacy. Though Schubert did not write for the harp per se, his songs were oftentimes accompanied by guitar, which shares some similar properties with the harp. The early 19th century harp was not up to the task, but while the modern harp can manage technically, Ms. Süss makes a compelling argument that it should musically.
What is successful is the harp’s wide color range and phrases that act in the opposite direction to the piano in a slower decay, the resonance giving just that much expression to the line. But in this success lies the weakness of the endeavor itself. This Schubert becomes an experiment of too much ambiance. The third impromptu, with its burbling brook in the left hand, is sullied by the ringing quality. It’s an entirely new aesthetic that, for me, spoils the delicacy.
That being said, there are clearly cases where it would seem pianists might prefer a harp at their disposal. The cascading arpeggios in Impromptu No. 4 sound like they were written for harp—and perhaps for Ms. Süss in particular. She freely admits negotiating the technique, that lies so comfortably under the fingers of a pianist, was no easy feat. But in this impromptu her decision to devote an entire disc to re-hearing Schubert seems a good one.
Where Ms. Süss excels is in the more song-like impromptus, No. 6 and No. 7. She leaves us with the feeling that she is depressing keys rather than pulling strings. There is a something peaceful—and I agree with her own assessment—something sacred in this music, and she honors that beautifully.
My favorite track of all actually seems the most unlikely, considering the sheer difficulty of making it sing on the harp. Impromptu No. 2, while played slower than many a pianist would, has a dancing and dignified nature to it. There seem to be a few obvious edit points once the tempo finally settled, but Ms. Süss imparts just the right sass and sense that this music is made up on the spot, or impromptu. •