PIAZZOLLA (arr. Vehmanen) Histoire du Tango: Bordel, 1900; Café SAINT-SAËNS Fantaisie, op. 124  —  Crimson Duo (Matt Milewski, vn; Jaymee Haefner, hp)  —  NO LABEL 190394076634 (25:05) available via

Harp Column Review of Crimson Duo CD by Alison Young (of Minnesota Public Radio) 

It is said that in Buenos Aires at the turn of the century, customers waiting their turn in houses of ill repute amused themselves making music with portable instruments, even dancing together to the anticipatory off-beat rhythm that would become the characteristic signature of the tango. So in telling the story of Argentina’s national dance Histoire du Tango, Astor Piazzolla chose the originals, flute and guitar.

In the able hands of the Crimson Duo–harpist Jaymee Haefner and violinist Matt Milewski—the music takes on a broader, perhaps more symphonic sound. The violin opens with a motif that sounds improvisatory and full of light-hearted joie de vivre. It is answered in the harp not by musical notes, but by a little percussive knock before the two come together, players who jibe well in the close, leaning-in tango embrace that still affords the slightest separation for each to fully realize their role in the ensemble.

The slow movement that follows captures the pathos of the tango of the ‘30s, a time when people ceased dancing, and instead listened. Almost like the Blues in the deep South, the tango becomes a vehicle for a singer’s most intimate feelings. The advantage of violin is that, with the right player, the sound can weep. Mr. Milewski is that player, using each bow stroke to give voice to a universal feeling of loss, unrequited desire, or simply ennui. Ms. Haefner accentuates the deepest colors and lingers ever so long on each arpeggio, like a sigh, with the purity of harmonics ringing in response. Only a short moment is afforded to us to gaze through a gauzy veil into a time long past.

This nostalgic intimacy bleeds into the stunning episodic Fantaisie for Violin and Harp by Camille Saint-Saëns. When you put Saint-Saëns into context, it boggles the mind that the man was born during the creative years of Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Brahms and died while the jazz age raged. He stubbornly resisted modernism, and this late work is all heart-on-the-sleeve Romantic, just the vehicle for the expressive qualities inherent in Crimson Duo. The harp opens with a come hither set of arpeggios, the violin answering with a legato lyric, the only hint of this being France 1907 is Saint-Saëns unabashed use of a whole tone scale to shake things up. Gradually and almost imperceptibly, the notes evolve into a more complex scamper with the harp on off-beats in a game of tag, until she later shines in her own moment of virtuosity. It’s a mid-summer night of fireflies and gentle breezes, one you hope will never end. My only disappointment in this lushly recorded album is that I longed for more. But I happily look forward to Crimson’s completion of the Piazzolla and much more. Alison Young

Fanfare review of Crimson Duo CD by Colin Clarke (of Fanfare magazine): 

Looking for all the world like a sampler, this is actually a remarkably rewarding little disc. Violinist Matt Milewski and harpist Jaymee Haefner have been an established duo since 2011, a year after Milewski joined the Fort Worth Symphony. Haefner is a member of the faculty at the University of North Texas.

The two movements from Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango will be known to most, but this performance needs hearing. Milewski’s violin playing is impeccable, his tuning wonderful in all registers. The combination of violin and harp is a winning one (a percussion element is added via knocking on the harp body). The rhythms of “Bordel, 1900” are infectious, while the more languorous “Café, 1930” allows the harp to shine initially before the violin’s long lines transport the listener to places of old. Milewski’s tone is simply beautiful, while the overall impression is of a long vocal line. The recording is perfect; every nuance is captured of the harp, but the placement is natural and, importantly, not too close.

Composed while on the Italian Riviera in 1907 when the composer was 72, Saint-Saëns’ Fantaisie, op. 124 for violin and harp is an example of the rarefied aura of that composer’s later works. There is a great sense of freedom of expression, beautifully conveyed by the present performers. The composer’s affection for the harp is shown by his other works for that instrument, the solo harp Fantaisie of 1893 and the Morceau de Concert for harp and orchestra of 1918. Gentle is the word that comes to mind regarding op. 124, as well as charming. The use of the minor mode is for color: no great emotional depths are plumbed. A winning sense of quasi-improvised variation suffuses this performance, and only when one tunes into it does one notice the virtuosity here. The ideal complement to the Piazzolla (and, frankly, the greater piece), this is a simply lovely performance. Context might be a deciding factor for some: Philippe Graffin and Catherine Beynon on Helios, for example, offer a full disc of works by Saint-Saëns and Ysaÿe (although mainly with piano accompaniment). Sadly, it looks like Josef Suk’s recording with Kateřina Englichová, previously available on a Discover compact disc, is presently absent from the catalog; so too, it appears, is the performance by flute and harp by Jean-Pierre Rampal and Marielle Nordmann, although given that the Crimson Duo play with more delicacy than Rampal/Nordmann, it feels less of a loss. Milewski and Haefner provide a lovely account; cherishable, even. Delicious fare.  Colin Clarke

Concert marks Spectrum Chamber Music Ensemble’s 30th anniversary BY OLIN CHISM (Star Telegram)

MAY 17, 2016 6:22 PM