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Harpist’s Utah debut is stunning

Kondonassis soars in rarefied realm of concert harpists

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Yolanda Kondonassis is one of today's leading classical harpists.

Yolanda Kondonassis is one of today’s leading classical harpists.

Ken Lax

YOLANDA KONDONASSIS, Libby Gardner Concert, Hall, University of Utah, Thursday.

Among today's concert harpists, Yolanda Kondonassis stands head above shoulders above the rest. What distinguishes her is her phenomenal technical prowess and radiant musicality. Even in the rarefied realm of harpists, these are uncommon qualities.

Until this week, Kondonassis had yet to perform in Utah. That finally changed Thursday when she gave her debut recital performance in Libby Gardner Concert Hall. The audience was disappointingly small, but those who came witnessed a remarkable performance by an extraordinarily talented artist.

Playing a wonderfully varied program spanning the baroque to the 20th century, Kondonassis put her inspired artistry on display time and again, mesmerizing her listeners and dispelling any doubt that she is today's leading harpist.

One of the works on the program was a piece she commissioned about a decade ago from American composer Donald Erb. His Sonata exploits the harp and opens up its potential for being more than just a melody instrument. The work is quite effective and also provocative at times. The outer movements of this three-movement work are built on a multitude of motivic fragments that Erb cleverly manages to connect in some way, although quite loosely to be sure.

The sonata's middle movement, on the other hand, is cohesive in its fluid melodicism, and the musical ideas flow seamlessly together.

Kondonassis gave an electrifying performance that captured the exoticism of the music lucidly. The work stretches the technical abilities of the performer to the limits and Kondonassis proved that she was more than ably up to it.

Particularly compelling was her reading of the hauntingly evocative middle movement.

Handel isn't especially known as a composer for the harp, yet he wrote a work that has become one of the staples of the repertoire and also one of his most recognizable works as well.

Every student of the harp knows his Concerto in B flat. And it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that most concertgoers know the work almost as intimately. The concerto is one of Handel's most genial works, rich in melodic inventiveness and delightfully graceful and refined. Kondonassis gave a wonderfully elegant and delicately phrased reading that brought out the concerto's lyricism attractively.

There was one other piece from the baroque on the program, a transcription of Domenico Scarlatti's Sonata in A major, K. 208, with which Kondonassis opened her recital, and which she played with stately mannerisms.

The second half opened with University of Utah pianist Heather Conner accompanying the evening's soloist in Debussy's "Danses sacree et profane," one of the composer's most evocative and ethereal works. Kondonassis captured the mysticism of the sacred with her expressive playing and conveyed the rhythmic lilt of the secular.

Kondonassis ended her recital with Carlos Salzedo's "Theme and Variations in Ancient Style." The most significant harpist/composer of the 20th century, Salzedo's music exploits the harp's possibilities in much the same way that Erb does with his Sonata, although in a more traditional manner. Nevertheless, his music is demanding and requires a performer of considerable technical skills. Kondonassis gave a wonderfully dynamic and luminous reading that was richly textured and musically rewarding.

There was also a brief encore, Salzedo's poetic "Song in the Night."

E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com