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Hamilton HARTY (1879-1941)
An Irish Symphony (1904: revised 1915 & 1924)
With the Wild Geese (1910)
In Ireland (1915)
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland/Proinssías O Duinn
rec [National Concert Hall, Ireland April 1996]
NAXOS 8.554732 [57.20]
Crotchet  £4.35   Amazon UK  £4.99  AmazonUS nya  CDNow nya

Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) is best remembered as one of the leading British conductors in the first half of the 20th century; that he was also a composer of real substance has been largely forgotten. This characteristically enterprising Naxos disc presents a strong case for the return to the concert hall not only of these pieces - especially With the Wild Geese - but also other and less overtly 'Irish' works such as his violin and piano concertos (both highly spoken of in the reference books).

Harty belongs to that select band of self-taught composers - Elgar, Walton and Poulenc are others readily springing to mind - who shared a late-romantic idiom yet spoke with utterly individual voices. Fertility of invention allied to vivid and technically demanding orchestration are his hallmarks. In these works also the folksy and the grandiloquent sit happily side by side. The most substantial work here is not the symphony (which is really no more than a suite based on traditional Irish airs), but With the Wild Geese, a tone-poem of symphonic dimension. The inspiration for this piece came from two poems by Emily Lawless devoted to the fate of an Irish regiment which fought with the French at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. In its three inter-related sections, Harty developed his thematic material with great resourcefulness and brilliantly evokes firmly-contrasted emotions.

In Ireland is a slighter piece, but no less firmly characterised in a performance notable for the outstanding contribution of an unnamed principal flute. Ó Duinn handles all four movements of An Irish Symphony with evident sympathy and attention to detail: the finale's powerful coda is particularly impressive.

Occasional signs of strain in the upper strings apart, this is a very fine performance and the disc is to be warmly recommended.

Adrian Smith



See also review by John France

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