John Frayne: Harpist shared spotlight during doctoral recital

John Frayne: Harpist shared spotlight during doctoral recital

One of the distinct pleasures of this off-semester time of year is the annual Harp Class, organized by Ann Yeung, a University of Illinois professor of harp.

I attended the June 12 concert, a doctoral recital by Ann McLaughlin. I had heard her excellent playing at the previous year's performances and especially while performing in tandem with Molly O'Roark under the duo title, Ginger and Spice.

McLaughlin was generous in sharing the spotlight at her recital, performing with a chamber ensemble and with O'Roark.

The concert began with "Fantasia," Wotq 58 (Wotquenne Catalog), by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, one of Johann Sebastian Bach's most successful sons. This pleasant work, with its mixture of Baroque fugal passages and extended melodies of the post-Baroque, Classical period, showed its origins as a keyboard piece. It brought clear and lively playing from McLaughlin.

The following piece, Gabriel Faur's "Une chtelaine en sa tour," ("A mistress of the castle in her tower") Op. 110, was written for the harp, and allowed McLaughlin to bring out some of the unique tone colors of her instrument.

Those blessed with arachnophilia must have especially enjoyed Paul Patterson's 1983 four movement suite "Spiders."

The harpist's hands flying over the strings evoke disparate images in different people. To composer Patterson, it suggested the legs of spiders and the spinning of gossamer webs. Of the four types of spiders evoked, the most striking for me were the black widow, with soft sinister phrases, and the balletic stunts of the tarantula, which McLaughlin described with abrupt phases and sweeping glissandi, visually reinforced by Ann wearing spider legs around her midriff.

The high point of the evening for me was the performance of Maurice Ravel's 1905 "Introduction and Allegro" for harp and chamber ensemble. The deliciously cool timbres of the flute, clarinet and strings, matched with the limpid tones of the harp, resulted in the playing of one of the loveliest-sounding works of the past century.

McLaughlin's accomplished playing of the harp cadenzas meshed beautifully with the dedicated playing of Allison DeFrancesco, flute; Sunjae Kang, clarinet; Chukyung Park and Hyein Lee, violins; Elizabeth Trower, viola; and Jooyeon Song, cello.

After the Ravel came a 2012 work by Robert Paterson, "Scorpion Tales" (pun intended?).

After a costume change, McLaughlin came out with Ginger and Spice partner O'Roark, both in black tights. Together they performed "Trinidad Scorpion," a Calypso-inflected section, and then "Promenade ? deux," in which a chatchy tune imitated the scorpion's mating dance. The finale of this group, "The Tale of Orion," portrayed the battle of the Greek mythical hero Orion with a scorpion.

The lineup was McLaughlin as Orion and O'Roark as the scorpion, with fireworks produced by the two harps, ending with the sad defeat of Orion. But the Greeks awarded both combatants by turning them into constellations, and Ginger and Spice received hefty applause.

After adapting their costumes to the tango world of Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, the combo performed "Libertango" from the year 1974. The lively playing was accentuated by the movements of the duo, as they alternately played each other's harps, sometimes both playing the same harp, or playing the harp from the side, and also performing mini-tangos. It was a wow display of imaginative performing and a suitable climax to McLaughlin's inventive and original recital.

Amid lively applause, Yeung brought up bouquets to Ginger and Spice.

Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM, and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. He can be reached at

Topics (1):Music