CD A0168: Arabesque

Arabesque. A journey into Harp Artistry by Isabelle Perrin
Northwest Sinfonietta. Christophe Chagnard, conductor

CD Cover Arabesque by Isabelle PerrinThe summer of 1996 brought a most unusual sight to Tacoma, Washington. Eight hundred harpists converged on the streets of this usually peaceful Northwest city as guests of the Sixth World Harp Congress. The Northwest Sinfonietta and I were engaged to perform 15 concertos with 15 of the world’s finest soloists. Isabelle Perrin stood Out for her distinctive sound and musicianship. We have since become great friends and have collaborated on many projects. This recording is a tribute to her superb artistry and marvelous instrument. Enjoy. Christophe Chagnard, producer, conductor

Buy this album now   CD: £16.00 + p&p 

Artist Profile and index of recordings and sheet music

Audio Samples & Track Listing


1 LA SOURCE Alphonse Hasselmans (1845-1912)
2 ARIA AND RONDO PASTORAL (ARR. J THOMAS) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
3 PRELUDE Op. 28 No. 1 Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
4 FLOWING STREAM Chinese traditional
Johann Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812)
6 CHANSON DANS LA NUIT Carlos Salzedo (1885-1961)
8 SERENADE Elias Parish Alvars (1808-1849)
9 SICILIANA Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)
10 ARABESQUE Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
11 DANSES SACRÉE ET PROFANE Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Total Time

CD Notes & Credits

This CD was recorded in May 2002 and originally released as an SACD by First Impression Music on M045. Cala has picked it up, dressed it down and reissued it in its accustomed livery. Internationally admired Isabelle Perrin joined the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and later on the Orchestre National de France as co-principal harpist, a position she held for 25 years. She has also made numerous recordings and done much to further knowledge of the harp. She has numerous publications to her name and is a visiting professor at prestigious institutions.


Sleeve Notes

The Harp Through The Ages
Derived from the primitive musical bow, the harp appeared as early as 3000 b.c. The Egyptian harp (2500 b.c.) was quite large and featured six to eight strings, a number which was to double later on. None of those instruments featured a supporting column and thus, were not capable of withstanding great tension; their sound was therefore soft and mellow.

In the 9th Century b.c., the supporting column made its first appearance on an instrument from Syria. Late; the Greeks began imitating the Syrian design as revealed on many painted vases from the 6th Century b.c. It is most likely the Greeks who introduced the harp in Europe where, as early as the Middle Ages, it was played in Wales and Ireland by bards and Celtic poets. The portative harp became, in the 12th Century, an essential instrument for the jugglers, troubadours, minstrels and Minnesänger who made it hugely popular. It already resembled the modern harp, smaller in dimensions with the same elegant curvature.

It is in the 15th Century that music expressly composed for the harp appears mostly in Spain and Italy. Having reached a popular status, the harp design evolved dramatically and featured a double row of strings tuned as the black and white keys of the keyboard which gave it a new name: “arpa doppia.” In the 16th Century the Welsh harp appeared, featuring three rows of strings (the two outside rows tuned as the white keys and the central row as the black keys.) This particular period was not, however, prolific for the harp, which suffered a sharp decline in interest until the end of the 17th Century when the pedal system was invented. Using rods through the supporting column, these pedals triggered small hooks, which could shorten each string. This device allowed each string to play two notes, thus replacing the need for the cumbersome second row of strings. It is for this instrument that Mozart wrote in 1778, his celebrated Concerto for Flute and Harp.

At the end of the 18th Century the hooks were replaced by “forks" (two prongs mounted on a disc) and at the beginning of the 19th Century; a “double action” system for each pedal was developed (seven pedals total, one for each note of the scale.) This technological break-through allowed the harp to play three notes per string, thus covering the entire chromatic scale. The harp reached its apex at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century. Debussy and Ravel were particularly fond of its pastel tones. The mid and late 20th Century provided a substantial contribution to the harp repertoire in the hands of many composers who were drawn to its formidable array of sonorities.

I have been connected to the harp manufacturer Camac for many years. Upon completing my studies at the Juilliard School in New York, I returned to France where I obtained a teaching position in Nantes, on the West Coast. It is there that I met Joel Gamier, founder and Director of the Camac Company. The following years saw the nurturing of a great friendship and collaboration. Joel Gamier, unfortunately now deceased, loved the harp passionately and dedicated his life to the honing of his manufacturing process. He had distinct ideas, which revolutionized the technical conception of the instrument and was constantly seeking the advice of professional harpists in his quest to further refine his instruments’ sonority. His initial focus was student harps, which he refined to such high degree that they quickly spread into the professional realm. Jakez François, his successor, continues that tradition of discovery and innovation, which will further refine this great instrument.

I have played on a Camac Atlantide Prestige Harp for many years now, and I must say that it has never disappointed me. The distinctive clarity of its sound and its marvelous projection are completely in accord with the qualities I expect from my instrument.


“Arabesque” IN THE MAKING
The idea behind this recording project was inspired by the encounter of Christophe Chagnard, conductor, with whom I had the opportunity to work at the Sixth World Harp Congress in the USA, Winston Ma, producer, and myself. Our deep common musical understanding and the notorious difficulty of recording such a tonally complex instrument as the harp, set the stage to take on what we perceived as a great challenge.

My choice of repertory was meant to be as eclectic as possible, as much in the various styles and time periods as in the distinct character of the different compositions, thus reflecting what could be featured at one of my recitals. Some famous pieces (often conceived initially for the piano and beautifully adapted for the harp) as well as lesser-known selections were assembled to provide the widest possible perspective on this magical instrument, and for each number to further enhance our love of it. It is my hope that my choices and preferences will provide the listeners with a glimpse of the immense pleasure I had in recording this album.

Isabelle Perrin. (Translated from French by Christophe Chagnard)
All rights reserved.

In this strikingly evocative piece, Hasselmans makes use of the contrast between the treble and bass of the harp to create, by means of arpeggios as accompaniment, the sound of water flowing while the melody suggests droplets.

This piece features two movements: the first, an “aria con variazioni” was composed by Eberl, a pupil of Mozart and the second a “Rondo Pastoral” was originally conceived for string trio by Mozart and later transcribed for the harp by John Thomas, a 19th Century Welsh harpist who also conceived of bringing the two compositions together as one opus.

CHOPIN: PRELUDE Op. 28, No. 15
This prelude, charged with intense emotion, was composed during a sojourn of Chopin and his lover George Sand at Majorca. Finding himself alone during a stormy afternoon and feeling rather somber, Chopin sat at the piano and composed a piece which, by the insistent repetitions of certain notes, suggests drops of rain falling, interrupted by dramatic chord progressions, revealing the emotional turmoil the composer was in the midst of during that period.

This popular Chinese folk melody inspired by the sound of water flowing, lends itself perfectly to the harp’s ability to translate the fluidity of water through the use of long arpeggios.

Dussek did nor have to search very far for inspiration to write for the harp; both his mother and wife were harpists! This sonata was written in three movements and was conceived as one of three such sonatas presented as a whole. It proved very successful and became one of the most performed compositions in the harp repertoire. The first and third movements are light in character (the third being in the form of a Rondo reminiscent of a music box) while the second, in a minor mode, is more melancholic.

Composed in 1934, this piece reveals through great poetry and an impressive science of tone colours, a rich variety of sounds including the use of nails, tapping of the soundboard and many different types of glissandi.

This moving piece was inspired by a poem from Moore of the same title. It begins with a grave and solemn theme followed by variations which lead us to believe in a happy unfolding (the fourth variation), but ending with a coda reminiscent of the opening theme’s mournful character.

Hector Berlioz, a great admirer of Parish Alvars, described him as “the Liszt of the harp.” This Serenade is indeed a true virtuoso piece of great difficulty. The introduction is particularly challenging with the use of harmonics throughout the “love song” motive, later restated in the coda as well.

It is in 16th Century lute music that Respighi found the inspiration for his Siciliana, which he originally composed for string orchestra. It was later arranged for the harp by Marcel Grandjany who made use of all the harp’s resources to create a piece of great melodic beauty and virtuosity.

The term arabesque indicates a complex and ornate design of intertwined floral and geometrical figures. Although initially conceived for the piano, this piece seems to have been meant for the harp. The fluidity of irs arpeggios for instance feels so natural on the harp that this Arabesque is performed more often by harpists than pianists!

Debussy clearly had a predilection for the harp, an instrument he incorporated in nearly all of his orchestral works. The Dances sacrée et profane were conceived in 1903 as examination pieces for the Brussels Conservatory. The two dances are played without interruption while displaying very distinct contrasts. The Spanish influence is particularly strong in the “Danse profane” while the “Danse sacrée” was inspired by a short piece by Portuguese composer Francisco de Lacerda.

Isabelle Perrin. (Translated from French by Christophe Chagnard)
All rights reserved.

Photograph of Christophe ChagnardCHRISTOPHE CHAGNARD
One of the most sought-after conductors in the Pacific Northwest, French conductor Christophe Chagnard is an all-around musician acclaimed for his finely-etched performances and charismatic approach to music. As co-founder of the Northwest Sinfonietta, in a few short years Mr. Chagnard has built the finest chamber orchestra in the Northwest and performs regularly with some of the biggest names in music — among them Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Lynn Harrell, Richard Stoltzman, Lara St. John and Awadagin Pratt.

A gifted communicator, Mr. Chagnard draws audiences into a piece of music with a direct approach that is compelling and distinctly his own, He has been praised by The News Tribune as an “intensely musical conductor given sometimes to attempting unconventional performances.” With a repertoire that cuts across the chamber, symphonic and choral repertories, Mr. Chagnard brings the finely-honed sensibilities of the chamber musician to orchestral performance. A commitment to music of our time, a keen interest in mentoring and encouraging young musicians, and an easy manner in front of audiences help make him the complete musician.

Photograph of the Northwest SinfoniettaTHE NORTHWEST SINFONIETTA was created in 1991 by Christophe Chagnard and Kathryn Habedank on the occasion of the Mozart Bicentennial. It features thirty-six of the Northwest’s finest instrumentalists and performs a wide range of repertoire from Baroque to contemporary composers. The Northwest Sinfonietta has received numerous accolades from audience and critics alike and has been held as one of the finest orchestras of its kind.

“The 12-year-old Northwest Sinfonietta, based in Tacoma under the direction of conductor Christophe Chagnard, has developed into an ensemble that can hold its own among the best classical-music organizations in the Northwest.” The Seattle Times.

For more information on the Northwest Sinfonietta, please visit:


Executive Producer: Winston MA
Producer: Christophe Chagnard
Recording Engineer: Jeff Mee
Artistic Advisor: Patricia Wooster
Video Engineers: Messrs. Lee Po Chung and Wan Chi Man,
Allied Entertainment Ltd., Hong Kong
Venue: Rialto Theater, Tacoma, Washington USA 14-16 May 2002
Mastering Engineer: Paul Stubblebine, San Francisco USA. October 2003
Recording and Mastering System: Sony DSD recording and mastering system
Photos credit: I. Perrin by Anne Roman, C. Chagnard by Creative Indulgence, Northwest Sinfonietta by Kate A. Miner.

The Executive Producer and Producer wish to thank Messrs. David Kawakami and Gus Skinas, Sony SACD Project; The Broadway Center For The Performing Arts; James Wong of Allied Entertainment Ltd., Hong Kong; and the Camac Company, France.
Special thanks are given to Mr. Paul Stubblebine for his untiring energy and unique talent in mastering the recorded material.

© & (P) First Impression Music, Inc., USA
Tel.: (425) 868 5326 Fax: (425) 836 9061

Album Information

Instruments: Harp / Track 11 Harp & Orchestra
Genre: Classical
Format: CD
Our Ref: A0168
MCPS: --
Label: Cala
Year: 2015
Origin: USA