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Hamilton HARTY (1879-1941)
A Comedy Overture (1906) [13:08]
Fantasy Scenes (from an Eastern Romance) (1919) [11:56]
Piano Concerto in B minor (1922) [30:05]
Peter Donohoe (piano)
Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
rec. 21-22 February 2005, Ulster Hall, Belfast. DDD
NAXOS 8.557731 [55:09]

Broadly speaking Hartyís small cache of orchestral works can be located somewhere to the West of Tchaikovsky. His works are wonderfully well put together and Hartyís inspirations are often convincing; witness the stamp and elan of the Piano Concerto finale. His masterwork is Ode to a Nightingale of which the only recording (Chandos- review) has been made by Heather Harper and the self-same Ulster Orchestra conducted by Bryden Thomson.

The Comedy Overture is all impudent effervescence, Irish dreaminess and majestically sentimental climaxes. The contrast between jackanapes piccolo and full-bottomed bass is splendid. The four colourful movements of the Fantasy Scenes include a pizzicato Dancerís Reverie with more than a nod towards Tchaikovsky 4, a Lonely in Moonlight which owes a debt towards Mussorgskyís Dawn on the Moskva and the second movement of Tchaikovsky 5 with its long-lined French Horn solo. In the Slave Market crosses Ispahan with a touch of the Dublin pub. The Piano Concerto combines the rugged and crystalline strengths of Tchaikovsky 1 and Rachmaninov 1 and 2 (listen to the middle movement at 3:40 and the finale at 2:44 and 8:00). Closer to home letís not forget the Tchaikovskian Haydn Wood piano concerto and the Stanford Second Concerto which famously strikes its own stylistic parallels with Rachmaninov. A toe-tapping, foot-stomping Slavonic finale is regally confident and confidently sentimental. Watch your speed if you play this in the car on the motorway. Itís one of my favourites among piano concertos - easily as good as the Arensky - another work I urge you to hear if you donít already know it.

This is not the first Harty disc in the Naxos stable. Thereís another (Irish Symphony, With The Wild Geese, In Ireland) with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and the conductor Proinssías O Duinn. Itís similarly successful:-

The Chandos box contains all the most important works but omits both the Fantasy Scenes and the still unrecorded Whitman setting The Mystic Trumpeter (baritone and orchestra). Bryden Thomson conducts the Ulster Orchestra in one of their finest hours. Chandos recorded virtually all the orchestral music and itís reviewed here on: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2000/oct00/harty.htm

This disc is not quite as sumptuously recorded as the Chandos box but thereís not that much in it. In its own terms it sounds nothing short of splendid.

Serious fans must get the Chandos box but as a single disc invitation card to the refulgent talent of Hamilton Harty this Naxos CD is at the top of the list. Hartyites must have the Naxos because it includes the first recording of the orchestral version of the Fantasy Scenes.

Rob Barnett



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