This is simply one of the most beautiful and satisfying albums to come across my desk. Karen Gottlieb is a bay area harpist and harp technician. She holds degrees from the University of Washington, Seattle and the Cleveland Institute of Music. She is also a certified Lyon& Healy and Salvi Harps technician. Ms Gottlieb teaches at Mills College and SF State University. She plays with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players as well as other bay area institutions. She also teaches harp privately and her entertaining website also includes some of her favorite recipes.
From the cover photograph to the recording, to the choice of repertoire and the fellow musicians this is an absolutely gorgeous and satisfying album. The cover photo by Peter Neibert expertly represents the material within. The recording by the wonderful Robert Shumaker is superb. This is both celebration and homage to composers and musicians of Northern California.
Ms. Gottlieb enlists the talents of fellow bay area artists Dan Reiter, cello, Tod Brody, flute, Daniel Kennedy, percussion and William Winant, percussion in a celebration of bay area composers Lou Harrison (1917-2003), Wayne Peterson (1927- ), John Cage (1912-1992) (OK, Cage isn’t really a “bay area” composer but he was and is well-loved in the area) and Dan Reiter (1951- ).
Harrison’s deceptively simple sounding music is joyful and tuneful but that simplicity belies a great emotional depth as well as evidence of his studies in world music. He is represented here by his Suite for Cello and Harp (1949) and Music for Harp with Percussion (1967-1977). These pieces, respectively, open and close the disc.
Peterson’s Colloquy for Flute and Harp (1999) us actually the most recent piece on the program and it evokes much of the sound world of, perhaps, Ravel in its intense dialogue.
Cage’s In a Landscape (1949) is written for harp or piano and is one of his best known works. The simplicity of this work’s sound world is actually pretty intricate in structure and, like many of his pieces of that era, was written to accompany a dancer. Gottlieb’s reading is thoroughly convincing and satisfying.
Reiter’s Sonata for Flute and Harp (1982), like the Harrison, evokes world music through its imitation of shakuhachi and koto. I hadn’t heard Reiter’s compositions before and now I look forward to hearing more.
What makes this disc particularly endearing is this generation of musicians’ interpretations of these classic and newer works. None of these works are commonly heard but all deserve more exposure. The musicians, led by Gottlieb, seem to exude a sort of native understanding of these compositions or at least manage to convincingly make them sound both loving and definitive.