Harpist Bridget Kibbey creates an air of enchantment at Phillips

By Joe Banno
Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's hard to beat the harp when gauzy atmospherics and a general air of enchantment are priorities. Harpist Bridget Kibbey's recital at the Phillips Collection on Sunday went from beauty to rarefied beauty in an eclectic hour-long program.

The dazzling runs, complex poly-rhythmic figures and chiming of bell-like harmonics all had their effect, thanks as much to Kibbey's formidable technique as to the canny writing of the composers and arrangers on offer.

But the harp - unlike, say, the piano - becomes a bit locked into its own fairy-tale sound world, and expresses certain aspects of music with limited effectiveness. So, for all the haunting loveliness Kibbey found in an (uncredited) transcription of Rameau's "L'Egyptienne," the crispness and clarity of the clavichord original was lost.

And despite her considerable skills at teasing out seductive folk rhythms in Andre Caplet's "A l'Espagnole" or in her arrangement of Celtic dance music, "Irish Reels," her instrument's soft-centered tone muted any earthy ethnicity that might have found its way through from the source material.

More naturally attuned to the harp's evocative qualities were Faure's richly colored "Une Chatelaine en sa Tour" (which achieved a dreamlike aura in this fine young player's hands), a pair of sensitively scored contemporary pieces - David Bruce's "Caja de Musica" and Kati Agocs's "Every Lover Is a Warrior" - and the centerpiece of the program, Britten's 1969 Suite for Harp in C. The Britten, with its playful neo-baroque-isms, its troubled undercurrents and its sense of the fantastical, proved a tour-de-force for Kibbey's commanding technique.

Banno is a freelance writer.

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