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Harp soloist offers a taste of heaven

CATRIN FINCH, harpist, Thursday, March 29, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, one performance only.

The harp probably isn't everyone's idea of a solo instrument. Most people know it as part of a symphony orchestra, but few, if any, have ever heard it on its own in recital.

However, if you were part of the audience in Libby Gardner Hall at Thursday's recital by the young Welsh harpist, Catrin Finch, then you might look upon the instrument differently now.

Finch is truly a virtuoso. Even though she's only 20, she plays with a maturity that exceeds her years. Her playing is subtle and refined and graced with charm and elegance. And as her program showed, she is equally at home with Baroque music and contemporary pieces.

She opened her recital with a wonderful transcription of J.S. Bach's "Italian Concerto," originally written for harpsichord. The harp sound isn't as crisp as that of the harpsichord, yet Finch played this work so that each line in the music was distinct and clear — she made the harp's peculiarities work to her advantage. In fact, she played the "Italian Concerto" as if it was written for the harp.

Finch played the outer movements of the Bach with a keen sense of dynamics, while the music in the lovely "Andante" was enhanced by the harp's warm, soft sound. And Finch took full advantage of this, putting a touchingly simple yet expressive twist to this enchanting movement.

Nino Rota is best known for his film scores. However, he did write one work for harp, the "Sarabande and Toccata," with which Finch followed the Bach. Rota's is a melodic piece. The "Sarabande" is stately with a definite Baroque flavor, while the "Toccata" is more romantic in character, and together both are fluid and delicately structured.

The first half of the recital was rounded out with the technically demanding "Ballade" from Carlos Salzedo's "Trois Morceaux" and three transcriptions of piano pieces by Debussy, which Finch with tongue-in-cheek labeled "Pour la Harpe."

Of the three Debussy selections, "Claire de Lune" and "Reverie" were serene and other worldly. The "Valse Romantique," on the other hand, was rhythmically charged and played with a fine sense of rubato.

The second half consisted of four fairly brief pieces. Finch opened this section with Gabriel Faure's langorous and dreamy "Impromptu." She followed it with a transcription of Franz Liszt's virtuosic "Le Rossignol."

The evening concluded with Luke Goss' Sonatine from 1999 and Felix Godefroid's innocuous "Danse des Sylphes."