The harp is an ancient musical instrument and symbol of power. George Frideric Handel incorporated it for special effect in the oratorios Esther and Alexander’s Feast, as well as the opera Giulio Cesare. He also composed a concerto for the harp and included it among his two publications of concertos for organ. The harp in Handel’s day was heard both as part of an ensemble and alone, giving an unusually sensual quality to the music.
George Frideric Handel
Maxine Eilander’s new ATMA label recording, entitled “Handel’s Harp,” brings together the music that Handel composed for the instrument (with some extras). Joined by soprano Cyndia Sieden and the Seattle Baroque Orchestra (under the direction of Stephen Stubbs), the performance has a wonderful flow. I’ve heard these pieces many times in the past both on recording and in live performance, but never this dynamic and engaging. Eilander’s playing is particularly remarkable for its poetic expression.
The 2008 release of William Lawes’ harp consorts features not only Maxine Eilander, but theorbist Stephen Stubbs, violinist David Greenberg, and the viola da gamba duo, Les Voix Humaines. I’ve looked at this recording in a previous podcast and gladly return to it because there’s something truly special about the ensemble’s performance. Let’s just say that they’ve got a terrific groove going.
Here’s video produced by the ATMA label which includes more background information and music to “Handel’s Harp”: