HARPIST ISABELLE PERRIN in Libby Gardner Concert Hall on the University of Utah campus; April 12, 7:30 p.m.; one performance only.
Americans generally seem to be fond of French things — croissants, ballets, Monet, the Eiffel Tower. After the audience's warm reception of French harpist Isabelle Perrin, it seems that we can add her to the list, as well.
Perrin's appearance marked the last of the harp concert series in Libby Gardner Concert Hall. Not only did she bring her French heritage and nationality, but most of Perrin's selected program featured French composers as well.
Ironically, her style doesn't sound typically "French." Where one might expect a rather soft edge to the music, she generally comes across quite bold and strong. Where one might expect a wash of subtle nuances of color, she often terraces the dynamics, creating distinct plateaus and sharp breaks between sounds.
These characteristics combined to form an easily identifiable "Isabelle Perrin sound" that left its stamp on the different pieces — although to different degrees.
For example, the first three pieces on the program, Francisque's "Courant, Pavane et Bransles," Glinka's "Nocturne" and Glinka's rendition of "Variations on a theme by Mozart," all got the same interpretation, though they are by composers who wrote in different styles. With all three pieces, the melody was forte, pronounced with bold, confident strokes, paired with a mezzo-piano accompaniment. Although she did change volume levels, Perrin tended to jump from one distinct dynamic to another, staying rather conservatively near that dynamic.
However, on the piece that followed, Andres' "Elegy," she explored a much wider range of colors, dynamics, sounds and even techniques. Of course, the piece demands at least some variation, since it includes a couple of non-standard techniques, such as tapping the wood part of the harp.
The performance itself, however, was elegant and musical. Although she still employed the strong, deep tones that are so characteristic of her style, Perrin also used variety in color and texture to complement it, which made it a strength rather than a detraction.
The rest of the program seemed to settle somewhere between these two extremes. Sometimes Perrin would abandon the strong, bold sound for short periods of gauzy, filigree textures (among others), but it inevitably came back before too long — even with Debussy.