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Fritz Bennicke HART (1874-1949)
The Bush - Symphonic Suite in five movements, Op. 59 (1923) [39:55]
Idyll for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 169 (1949) [17:48]
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Richard Divall (Bush)
Ronald Woodcock (violin); Adelaide Symphony Orchestra/Graham Abbott (Idyll)
rec. 17 March 1993, Melbourne Town Hall (Bush); 22 February 1994, ABC Studio 520 (Collinswood) South Australia (Idyll)
ANTHOLOGY OF AUSTRALIAN MUSIC CSM 38 [57:43]



The decades of the 1870s and 1880s saw the birth of an amazing galaxy of British composers, ranging from the acknowledged masters: Vaughan Williams, Holst, Bridge, Ireland and Bax to the great creators of light music such as Ketèlbey, Coates and Haydn Wood. Such a cornucopia of talent must obviously have made for a highly competitive musical marketplace in the early twentieth century. As a result, a number of composers saw better opportunities awaiting them in the Dominions and they went off to carry the English Musical Renaissance and what they had learned at the RAM and RCM to Canada, Australia and South Africa. Most prominent among them were Healy Willan (1880-1968) who immigrated to Canada in 1913 and William Henry Bell (1873-1946) who settled in South Africa in 1912. Australia was the destination of Edgar Bainton (1880-1956) in 1934 having been preceded there many years earlier by Fritz Hart in 1908. All of them became prominent musical forces in their adopted countries as teachers, conductors and administrators and none would return full-time to their native land. Prominence abroad probably did not do very much for their fame back home as they lacked the exposure in London that was more readily obtainable by their stay-at-home contemporaries. Despite their many decades abroad they never lost their musical Englishness as any hearing of their music will easily attest.

Fritz Hart, the subject of this CD, has had the least exposure of this group as each of the others have had at least some of their orchestral music - symphonies, in fact - issued on commercial CDs.

Hart was born in London in 1874 and started his musical career ten years later in the choir of Westminster Abbey. He attended Eton and studied under Stanford, Parry and George Groves at the Royal College of Music. He did some conducting for the D’Oyly Carte Company before his departure for Australia where he conducted several years before being appointed Director of the Melba Conservatorium of Music in Melbourne in 1916 where he succeeded another English transplant, George W. L. Marshall-Hall (1862-1915). He held this post for twenty-one years when he moved on to Honolulu in 1937 where he became Inaugural Professor of Music at the University of Hawaii and also the conductor of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. There he spent his remaining years until his death in 1949. Despite his educational, administrative and conducting duties he always managed to be a prodigious creator of music with more than five hundred works including 22 operas and operettas - many to his own librettos - as well as symphonic, chamber, choral, instrumental works and hundreds of songs. He also wrote poetry and novels.

The CD at hand is probably the first opportunity actually to hear any music by this composer other than an occasional song that appeared in an anthology of Australian art songs - as far as I have been able to determine. What we have here are two major works by Hart written for orchestra and both are quite substantial. According to Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Fifth Edition), Hart wrote seventeen orchestral works (including two with solo violin). Going by their titles most of them seem to be of small scale: overtures, fantasies, and the like. However, there is a Symphony from 1934 and the major work recorded here, the symphonic suite The Bush from eleven years earlier. From its structure one might guess that The Bush started its life as a projected symphony as its three central movements can easily be described as a scherzo, slow movement and finale in quite classical forms. These are sandwiched in between two very impressionistic and often languorous movements that act as a prelude and epilogue. The composer was trying to evoke the majesty and mystery of the Australian wilderness as seen through an obviously English pair of eyes. To do this he uses an extremely colorful orchestral palette and makes the suite’s forty minutes expanse quite a thrilling and evocative musical safari. While ultimately lacking the really big memorable tunes that one feels ought to be there, there is enough going on here to make anyone who loves the sumptuous sounds of Holst’s The Planets and Bridge’s The Sea really sit up and take notice. One will hear obvious echoes of the former work in The Bush and this should not come as a surprise as Holst and Hart were old friends from their days at the RCM and they corresponded frequently up until Holst’s death in 1934.

The second work on the disc, The Idyll for Violin and Orchestra was written in the composer’s final year. As a valedictory work it could not be more appropriate as it evokes an unmistakable nostalgia for the land that he left so many years before. Written in rondo form, it is a lovely piece with a very distinct evocation of English folk music mixed with a strong Elgarian dignity. For those who love Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending or Julius Harrison’s Bredon Hill Rhapsody (recently released on CD by Dutton Epoch) here is another violin and orchestra work to savour.

The performance and sound quality of both works are excellent. The recordings derive from ABC broadcasts from the early 1990s and the accompanying notes by the conductor Richard Divall and Dr Peter Treger are quite informative. For further information about Hart’s life and musical output one should refer to the article in Grove cited above.

To sum up, this CD is a superb and very gratifying introduction to an unjustly forgotten composer whose music, judging by the examples here, exemplifies all the best features of early twentieth century English music. Like many of his fellow composers who remained at home and achieved much greater recognition, he was no breaker of new ground but melodic, colorful and well-crafted music such as this deserves to be heard. We should thank the Australian Music Centre for giving us this opportunity. Now it is time for Chandos, Dutton Epoch or another enterprising label to add Fritz Hart to their burgeoning roster of English composers whom they have rescued from obscurity.

Michael Herman

 

Some additional CDs to supplement this review:
Edgar Bainton: Symphony No.1 "Before Sunrise" (first movement only entitled Genesis). Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra/Douglas Bostock (+ York Bowen: Symphony No. 2 and Frederic Austin’s Symphonic Rhapsody, Spring. ClassicO 404
Edgar Bainton: Symphony No.2 in D Minor. BBC Philharmonic/Vernon Handley (+ Hubert Clifford: Symphony 1940 and John Gough: Serenade for Small Orcestra). Chandos CHAN 9757
Edgar Bainton: Symphony No. 3 in C Minor. BBC Concert Orchestra/ Vernon Handley ( + Rutland Boughton: Symphony No. 1 Oliver Cromwell). Dutton Epoch CDLX 7185
William Henry Bell: A South African Symphony [Symphony No. 4?]. National Symphony Orchestra of South Africa/Peter Marchbank ( + Gideon Fagan: Concert Overture in D and "Ilala" (tone poem). Marco Polo 8.223833
George W. H. Marshall-Hall: Symphony in E Flat and Adagio Sostenuto (from Symphony in C Minor). Queensland Theatre Orchestra/Warren Bebbington. Move MD 3081
Healy Willan: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor. Edmonton Symphony Orchestra/Uri Meyer ( + Benjamin Britten: Canadian Carnival and Four Sea Interludes from the opera Peter Grimes. CBC Records SMCD 5123 (out of print but well worth seeking).

 


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