Karl Jenkins (b. 1944)
One of the royal advantages of being the Prince of Wales includes having an official harpist. “Over the Stone,” for two harps, percussion, and strings was “commissioned at the kind request of His Royal Highness” for harpist Catrin Finch and composed by Sir Karl Jenkins in 2002. Jenkins became famous for the familiar quasi-Baroque string music accompanying the DeBeers diamond commercial, and since has written a number of works that blend a popular-music sensibility with classical choral and symphonic forms.
“Over the Stone” capitalizes on the possibilities of having two harps instead of one- sometimes the soloists reinforce each other and at others there is a kind of dialogue. The styles range from folk-music simplicity (Tros y Garreg) to Piazzolla-like Latin abandon (Vamp Latino). The fifth movement, for just the two soloists, demonstrates more unusual ways of playing the harp, including pedal glissandi (bending the pitch of ringing strings by changing the pedals), playing close to the soundboard, and slashing across the strings with fingernails.
Much of the work is joyful and immediately attractive, and I think that the percussion instruments work particularly well with the crisp articulations inherent to the harp.
Symphony No. 2 in E Minor
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 was given its premiere in 1908 to great applause with the 34 year-old composer conducting. Since then the work’s reception has varied- even while the composer was still alive its almost hour-long duration was felt to be excessive and so drastic cuts were made. I can recall that by the time I went to college in the 1970’s no self-respecting serious musician would even admit to liking Rachmaninoff, his reputation having sunk so low. Since then, though, audiences have come around to appreciating the great beauty and vivid emotional content of his music, not to mention his dazzling way with the symphony orchestra.
The three faster movements of Symphony No. 2 are similar in that once the more energetic initial theme has had its say, the composer brings in one of his “big tunes.” Even in the second movement Scherzo the fun is interrupted by a melody with a great romantic sweep. The third movement, being the contrasting slow part of the symphony, is practically all big tunes. The rising melody that the violins introduce at the outset was loved so much by pop musician Eric Carmen that he appropriated it for his 1976 hit “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” and was shortly thereafter contacted by the Rachmaninoff estate about royalties owed. As beautiful as this melody is, the next one floated by the solo clarinet over gently undulating strings is even more so. I included this symphony in the WSO’s 2018-19 season at the suggestion of Symphony member Coleman Burgess, who also happens to be the solo clarinetist.
Other than not observing one repeat sign in the first movement, we are presenting the symphony without cuts, and so my advice is to sit back and luxuriate in the sheer abundance of memorable tunes and let the composer’s structure gradually and rewardingly unfold.