Richard Harvey (*1953) – Concerto Antico
Richard Harvey has carved out a unique niche in contemporary music. He began as an early music specialist, graduating from London’s Royal College of Music and joining the early music ensemble Musica Reservata. And like many early music specialists, he could have stayed there. Instead, Harvey helped found the progressive rock group Gryphon, and subsequently worked his way into the music business as a session player. Since the 1980s, he’s created an impressive body of film and television work as both a composer and performer. His musical relationship with film composer Hans Zimmer is especially close: He has toured with Zimmer, contributed music to Zimmer’s score to The DaVinci Code, and recently was a performer in Zimmer’s music for the Lion King remake.
So Harvey comes by his common touch naturally. But the Concerto Antico also draws extensively on Harvey’s knowledge of Medieval and Renaissance music. (One critic wrote of this concerto that “I’m still trying to get my head around a finale where Philip Glass meets Tudor England.”) The piece is tuneful and effectively scored, and the succession of beautiful moments, sensitively and sometimes brilliantly juxtaposed, compensates for the lack of a strong narrative arc. The concerto, composed in 1995, was commissioned by Harvey’s friend, the guitar virtuoso John Williams. The idiomatic guitar writing is well integrated with the orchestra. The soloist is often featured, but also frequently forms part of the orchestral texture. The five-movement form resembles the arch beloved by Bartók: Aside from the first movement’s long introduction, the first and last movements are fast; the second and fourth movements are dances of modest length that begin with solo guitar; and the long third movement stands alone, although its main theme returns just before the concerto’s end.
In both its name and its mood, the first movement proclaims the piece’s connection to Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, the best-known of all guitar concertos. The lovely opening crescendo is like an awakening, followed by a joyous dance in which shifting meters spice up already abundant rhythmic energy. The second movement’s perky, irregular rhythms also recall Rodrigo. The concerto’s heart is the lyrical third movement, which begins in a beautiful haze and ends in quiet rapture, with a tenderness reminiscent of Aaron Copland. Breaking such a mood without annihilating it is a compositional challenge that Harvey meets perfectly, with a quiet and simple opening that gently moves us forward. The finale is another dance, an English variant of the vigorous French Gaillard. The music broadens into a benedictory reminiscence of the third movement; but Harvey doesn’t tarry long before continuing to the exciting closing. – note by Mark Arnest
Complete Performance Video
Promotional Trailer (3 Minutes)