The harp is a rare beast to come across in a solo setting. Its natural habitat is the orchestra, especially one playing Romantic music. Seeing two solo harpists on stage together is therefore about as rare as finding a four-leaf clover, or that matching lid for your Tupperware . On September 1, the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong performed two concertos that showed both the solo capabilities of the instrument and the virtuosity of harpists Dan Yu and Lau Yee-yeung. The entertaining and very well-performed concert, titled “Stars, Angels & Celestial Harps”, was skilfully led by German guest conductor Robert Reimer and also included a lovely selection of orchestral music. To begin the concert and introduce the “stars” theme, the orchestra gave a lively account of William Herschel’s Symphony No. 17 in C . Herschel, the celebrated astronomer and discoverer of Uranus, turns out to have been no slouch as a composer either. In this little symphony, one of some 24 written in his earlier years, Reimer and the CCOHK lent plenty of spritz to the Allegro assai movements. David Chung’s crisp harpsichord playing not only added textural interest to the work, but also helped players maintain their buoyant chug. When tentativeness crept into the opening of the quiet, stately Adagio movement , it was quickly rectified and the movement turned out to be perfectly charming in its simplicity. Reimer and the orchestra then delved into a world of idyllic post-Romanticism in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Serenade in A Minor. The orchestra were in their comfort zone here and the music blossomed. Anthony Wong’s lovely, wistful solo clarinet playing set a scene of tranquillity early on and the first violins, led with conviction by concertmaster Amelia Chan, impressed throughout the movement. Jonathan Douglas, RTHK classical music presenter, loses cancer fight First and second violins projected a focused and unified sound, developed lovely warmth in their tone and produced some subtle shading of colour by varying their bow speeds and vibrato. Satisfyingly, this culminated in a fabulously passionate surge towards the movement’s conclusion. The orchestra then turned its attention back to the stars. Reimer gave a lyrically expressive reading of the 1911 revision of composer Henri Duparc’s surviving orchestral fragment Aux étoiles (To the Stars) . The CCOHK relished the hymn-like aspects of Duparc’s compositional style, with poignant solo playing from concertmaster Chan, clarinettist Wong, and the orchestra’s founder and principal oboist, Leanne Nicholls. “This man is a magician. In his hands the harp becomes a siren … stirred by his passionate embrace to utter the music of another world,” raved Hector Berlioz on hearing the English harpist and composer Elias Parish-Alvars. In his Concertino for Two Harps, the first of two works to feature the harp duo, Parish-Alvars employed an array of early 19th century musical devices. Yu and Lau’s intricate use of pedal slides to create diminuendi and the string muffling for legato lines were all executed expertly. So too were the surprisingly full-sounding chordal cascades in the opening Allegro brillante movement that belied the duo’s gestural restraint. It was uncanny musicality that marked both harpists’ work after the orchestra’s lively introduction. Yu’s heartfelt playing in the opening of the Andante was lovely, though later in the movement the duo’s double cadenza rocked slightly and was less unanimous. The Finale was spirited and fun was had by all in the jovial cantabile middle section before they concluded the concertino with virtuosic brilliance. Hong Kong Blind Orchestra could be ‘finished’ if it can’t find new space Any hesitancy on the part of Lau and Yu was soon overcome after the break. They swapped harps and positions on stage to joined the CCOHK in the Hong Kong premiere of Marjan Mozetich’s sensually scored The Passion of Angels . Both soloists exuded confidence. The Italian-born Canadian composer’s glittering sonorities, cascading arpeggios and lush chords verge on kitsch, but the music was entertaining and allowed for an impressive display of harp virtuosity. Without a doubt, the evening’s promise of stars, angels and celestial harps was fulfilled many times over. “Stars, Angels & Celestial Harps”, City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, Concert Hall, Hong Kong City Hall. Reviewed: Sept 1.