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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

CD1 CHAN7032 71.00
Violin Concerto (1908)
Piano Concerto (1922)
CD 2 CHAN7033 76.36
The Children of Lir (1938)
Variations on a Dublin Air (1912)
The London Air (1924)
Ode to a Nightingale (1907)
CD3 CHAN7034 78.01
A Comedy Overture (1906)
An Irish Symphony (1904)
In Ireland (1904)
With the Wild Geese (1902)
Ulster Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
Violin Concerto, Variations and Air (ADD) all other items DDD rec Ulster 1979, 1981-83
CHANDOS 7035(3) 3 disc set (also available separately)
 Amazon UK  £25.99   Amazon USA  $37.97

Music by conductor-composers often has a thin time of it. Furtwängler, Klemperer, Kletzki, Rankl - all wrote music (symphonies even). Furtwängler has had his symphonies and symphonic concerto recorded as much as anything else because of his high cult standing as a conductor. The others have had the odd disc (not Rankl, sadly) but nothing much.

Of Brits I immediately think of Eugene Goossens and Hamilton Harty. Goossens wrote some fine music (see reviews of ABC CDs elsewhere on this site!) but is usually (and inaccurately) written off as derivative and impersonal. Harty has suffered a similar fate but Chandos have done him proud from the centenary year onwards. The only really notable absentee from their catalogue is The Mystic Trumpeter (yes, another Whitman text, also set by Holst). Once in their catalogue (and all initially issued in LP format) Chandos have kept them there.

The recordings reissued and generously recoupled (they were previously on four full price CDs: CHAN 8321, 8386, 8314, 8387) here in boxed format are of sovereign quality.

To this day the recording of the Nightingale Ode stands as an object lesson in digital magnificence losing not a whit to its original LP format sound (I know - I have the gatefold LP as well). The Ode displays Harty's mastery to full advantage - the pinnacle of his early achievement. It was written for his wife, soprano, Agnes Nicholls and is a magnificently romantic and poetic piece boldly setting one of the finest poems in the British language. The Lir piece is much the latest here and is impressive in a Sibelian way deploying Heather Harper's de luxe voice and peerless intelligence as a part of the orchestral canvas: think Atterburg and Bax.

With the Wild Geese is a truly moving Tchaikovskian piece still well known because of the HMV collection (SNO/Gibson) which has been around since the late 1960s and continues on Classics for Pleasure. The Gibson and Thomson are on a par musically speaking but the Chandos sound is to be preferred. The sentimental rising of the geese in flight towards eternity at the close is a beautiful conception and is affectingly handled by Thomson .

The piano concerto was recorded privately on an extremely obscure LP in a version for orchestra conducted by Myers Foggin otherwise there is no competition. It is a bold and confident piece much in debt to Rachmaninov and Bortkiewicz - none the worse for that. The themes are good. The Haydn Wood concerto on Hyperion is a parallel of sorts. The symphony is lighter - more a suite than anything else - but its movements are well constructed and whistleable light music. The movement called A Fair Day has been recorded separately several times. The overture is well done and in style with the brilliance of the piano concerto.

The violin concerto was written for Szigeti. Fresh and spry, it is not especially original but well worth a look and listen for anyone who likes their Tchaikovsky or Bruch. The Variations and the Air make worthwhile sentimental travelling mates for the concerto. In Ireland is delightful in the Celtic manner and delicate mode. The Symphony and In Ireland will be released by Naxos at budget price before the year's end.

Many of Harty's pieces relate to Irish subjects but the music is rather in a super-romantic Tchaikovskian track than in noticeably Irish or Celtic strain. He is economical of expression and is not given to wallowing or meandering. Harty may have been of the same generation as Bax and Moeran but the music is in neither of their idioms: seeming older-fashioned by comparison - not that this is a criticism.

At midprice this set is irresistible. Shop around and you may well be able to do even better.

Rob Barnett

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