Hamilton Harty - Volume 2
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Orchestral Suite No.2 BWV 1067 (c.1717-23) [15:37]
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole Op.23 (1873) [22:01]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Le Carnaval romain Overture Op.9 (1844) [8:56]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Water Music Suite HWV348-50 (c.1715-17 rev 1736) arr. Hamilton Harty (1923) [12:49]
Leo Strockoff (violin)
Unnamed orchestra (Bach, Lalo) Hallé Orchestra (Berlioz, Handel)/Hamilton Harty
rec. 1922-24
Some of Hamilton Harty’s recordings are elusive. One such is included in this selection of his late acoustic discs from the period 1922-24, and that’s his accompaniment to violinist Leo Strockoff in the Symphonie espagnole.
I’ve always wondered whether that old business about Leopold Stokowski going by the name ‘Stokes’ had something to do with Leo Strockoff, who went by, and recorded under, the name ‘Strock’ as well as his own real name. Stokowski and Strockoff were both active in London at the same time, so who knows? In any case this means that violin collectors have to keep their wits about them, and one should never neglect a Strock lest it should turn out to be a Strockoff. About this fiddler, there’s not much written, but apart from Anglicising his name he recorded exclusively for English Columbia and spent his adult years in Britain. The Lalo was his single major recording - the others were smaller pieces - and it’s something of an irony that it was never released in his adopted country, only in North America. Columbia did inexplicable things like that, and at the same time they also shipped Arthur Catterall and William Murdoch’s excellent set of the Franck sonata to Canada and the USA, and refused to issue it in Britain.
This was unfortunate for Strockoff, as it was the first ever recording of the Lalo, excepting isolated, generally piano-accompanied movements. Complete, that is, except for the omission of the Intermezzo, something that happened often with Russian players who had been taught to omit it by Leopold Auer. I am aware that Nathan Milstein related that Strockoff, who ambled in Eugène Ysaÿe’s ambit in the 1920s, claimed to have recorded the work complete but I’m not aware there’s any evidence that he did. The matrix numbers certainly don’t support the assertion.
Naturally there were, in July 1924, brass reinforcements for the string basses, but they’re not especially galumphing. The solo violin, clarinet, especially in counter-themes, and percussion all come through with considerable clarity given the essentially primitive set-up. Orchestral pizzicatos register well. Strockoff makes a variable impression, frequently fluent, if at times a bit glib, sometimes evincing erratic intensity, especially in the Andante. I grew to like the performance however, and his suave legato in the finale is pleasing, albeit it’s not a performance to rank alongside the authentically Gallic one of Henry Merckel, recorded in 1932. After years of searching and bidding I finally managed to secure my own album set of this recording, inevitably from an American dealer, having given up on anyone transferring it. I like the transfer, though the cost of minimising surface noise is a slight loss of treble and room ambience.
The remainder of this hour long disc gives us Harty with another distinguished player, the flautist Robert Murchie, in Bach’s Second Orchestral Suite, recorded a few months earlier than the Lalo. The balance between strings and brass basses is a touch uneasy in the early stages - the Overture in particular - but there’s a fine level of expressive intent in the performance and Murchie plays exceptionally well, as a listen to the clarity of his articulation will testify. Harty wasn’t really known for his Bach, more for Handel. Here is his first attempt on disc at his own arrangement of the Water Music. He was to re-record it electrically, but this sonically compromised 1922 performance is ingeniously presented and warmly moulded, albeit quite severely cut to fit four 78 sides. The remaining item is another Harty speciality, Berlioz. The Roman Carnival overture takes a while to warm up, and its lack of string heft is all too audible, but it’s a valuable souvenir of his way with the composer’s music.
There are no notes from this company as usual - just a simple inlay card with track-listings. No matrix or catalogue details though, which is a shame. Still, I’d commend this disc, not least for the first ever - I believe - restoration of the Lalo.
Jonathan Woolf
I’d commend this disc not least for the first ever restoration of the Lalo.