A window onto a vanished age, late 18th and early 19th century concert duos for harp and piano

This two-disc set on the ARS Produktion label, from the mother and daughter Duo Praxedis, Praxedis Hug-Rutti (harp) and Praxedis Genevieve Hug (piano), takes us very firmly into the salons of the late 18th and early 19th century with a selection of pieces written for harp and piano duo by Francois-Adrien Boieldieu, Johann Neomuk Hummel, Francois-Joseph Dizi, Frederic Kalkbrenner, Johann Baptist Krumpholtz, Guillaume Gatayes, Daniel Steibelt and Federigo Fiorillo.

The period saw great technical improvements in both the piano and the harp, and at the same time the two instruments became great favourites in the salons, in the homes of the middle-classes. Publishers sought to take advantage of this burgeoning market, to satisfy the middle-class amateur performers' desires for repertoire. So many of the pieces on this disc would have been written specifically for publication, aimed at the good amateur market so the music had to be effective and appealing, but not too tricky.

Some pieces were not aimed at the amateur marked and written specifically for virtuoso performers, so that the Grand Duo Op.82 by Francois-Joseph Dizi and Frederick Kalkbrenner was written for the two to play (Dizi on harp, Kalkbrenner on piano), taking advantage of all the virtuoso possibilities. Similarly the ornamental brilliance of the piano part in Daniel Steibelt's Grand Duo probably suggests it being written for his own performance.

Whether written for amateur or virtuoso, the sound of these pieces is immediately redolent of the era. There is something about the combination of harp and piano, along with the standard musical forms used (few broke new ground in their compositions), bring out the character of the middle class salon.

There is an excellent article which gives the background to the pieces, though it would have been nice to have more specific dates for the individual pieces.

Duo Praxedis bring out the real charm in these works, revelling in the rather interesting textures that the two instruments can make together and throwing off with ease the more bravura and virtuoso moments. That said, the two discs are a little bit too much in one sitting, there is only so much charm and delight that you can take. This is something to dip into, rather than to listen to in one, but it certainly provides a window onto a long vanished world.