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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Peter Donohoe offers a faster, fresher version of Harty’s very appealing Piano Concerto than the Chandos rival with Malcolm Binns, though the latter remains enjoyable in its richer sound. Similarly, the Comedy Overture is much faster than on Chandos’s version, and it sparkles in its wit and easy-going energy. The Fantasy Scenes is attractive, light, ‘postcard’ music with a vaguely exotic feel, and prettily scored. This CD is recommended in every way and the sound, though without the sumptuous quality which Chandos obtained with the same orchestra, is very good.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, March 2006

This disc is just plain fun and a good time is guaranteed for all those feeling adventurous enough to try it. Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) was probably better known as a famous concert pianist and conductor, but the fact remains he was also one of the greatest, Irish composers of the twentieth century. The "Comedy Overture" is a brilliantly orchestrated, "pops" delight and certainly stands right up there with the best of Sir Arthur Sullivan. "Fantasy Scenes (from an Eastern Romance)," might be considered Sir Hamilton's answer to the spate of Slavic, Eastern inspired, musical pictures that appeared around 1900 from such composers as Anton Arensky, Mily Balakirev, Alexander Glazunov, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, Anatole Liadov, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In fact there's more than a passing resemblance to elements of Arensky's three suites for orchestra (originally for two pianos), and particularly the second one, which is better known as "Silhouettes." In keeping with the composer's considerable abilities as a pianist, the concerto is a virtuosic tour de force in the best romantic tradition - Frederic Chopin and Sergei Rachmaninov move over! Big tunes are in evidence everywhere and there are more than a couple of thematic shamrocks in the last movement. All the performances of these highly colorful, upbeat works are simply terrific and the recorded sound is excellent making for a disc that can't help but leave you with a smile. As an encore take a listen to Harty's outstanding "A John Field Suite" honoring the great Irish pianist and composer of the same name (He originated the nocturne, not Chopin!) and Sullivan's "Irish Symphony." Then, of course, there are the wonderful symphonies by another Irishman, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. So much music, so little time!

Michael Carter

It is not unheard of nor is it uncommon for conductors to pursue a second career as composers. In the first part of the last century, there were several distinguished people that, to a greater or less­er degree, took up the pen with varying degrees of success. These include Otto Klemperer, Felix Weingartner, and Hamilton Harty (1879-1941).

Harty's first musical appointments were at churches in Northern Ireland. In his teens, Harty relocated to Dublin, where he studied composition with Michele Esposito. The influence and importance of Esposito were important and Harty dedicated the overture and concerto on this release to his mentor. Because of the less than sterling musical infrastructure in Harty's homeland, he moved to London where he quickly became a widely sought accompanist and later conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. Today, however, Harty is known more for his 13-year tenure as conductor of the Halle Orchestra of Manchester. Harty was responsible for the introduction of many works to the English concert-going public. These include the Ninth Symphony of Mahler (1930) and Shostakovich's First (1932). From 1933, Harty worked mainly with the orchestras in London, where he led premieres of symphonies by Walton and Bax. He was knighted in 1925 and received the gold medal of the Philharmonic Society in 1934.

Most of Harty's lush, romantic, and beautiful music was composed in the first two decades of the 20th century and, as his podium reputation rose, Harty had less time to devote to composition. Harty belongs to the same generation that sired Arnold Bax, John Ireland, and Harty's exact contemporary, Frank Bridge. As a composer, Harty was far from prolific, but he was a sensitive and meticulous craftsman. His original compositions are few in number, but there is self assuredness, exceptional ability, and a high degree of consistency found throughout. There is an overtly Celtic feel to many of his works, including the Irish Symphony, With the Wild Geese, and The Children of Lir, but even in works such as A Comedy Overture and the piano concerto, one cannot help but detect a twinkle in Harty's eye and a bit of the brogue in his musical syntax. In addition, Harty also adapted excerpts from Handel's Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music for modem symphony orchesĀ­tra and prepared orchestral arrangements of several short piano pieces by his compatriot, John Field.

The music on this release-the second that Naxos has devoted to Harty's music-was composed between 1906 and 1922 with the overture being the earliest example of Harty's craft and the piano concerto the latest. With the exception of the Middle Eastern inspired Fantasy Scenes, this release is facing formidable competition by way of a midprice Chandos three CD set of Harty's orchestral works by the same orchestra but a different conductor, Bryden Thomson. Unfortunately, Naxos gets the short end of the stick on this outing.

The playing is excellent, as are the intonation and overall ensemble, but the tempos-at least on the works common to both the Naxos and Chandos releases-are another matter entirely. The Overture comes in at 13:08, just over a minute shorter than Thomson, and while I can live with that, I cannot say the same for the Piano Concerto. Here, Donohoe and Yuasa run through the score at warp speed, turning in a reading that, at 30:05, sounds rushed when compared to Malcolm Binns and Bryden Thomson's timing of 37:42. Though technically brilliant, Donohoe misses the mark elsewhere by consistently failing to linger and to squeeze the music for everything it's worth. By comparison, Binns is dreamy; he milks the phrases, especially in the opening measures of the Allegro risoluto. And while the sound on this Naxos release is wholly acceptable, it nowhere approaches the aural opulence found in the Chandos set.

In my opinion, Harty's pleasant and consistently attractive music requires that a more lyrical approach be applied at certain points in the scores, something that has apparently been overlooked here, but an aspect that is certainly apparent in the Chandos set. The bottom line is this: do you simply want a recording of Harty's wonderful Piano Concerto, or do you want it played as if he were an Irish Rachmaninoff? If the latter is your choice, invest in the Chandos set, which also includes the Violin Concerto and other scores, for it's the best around.

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