This May 2012 release can be pre-ordered or downloaded in mp3, 16-bit lossless (both at £7.99) or 24-bit Studio Master quality (at £15.60) before its release date. The availability of some recent Hyperion downloads in Studio Master versions is an exciting development and brings them into line with the likes of Linn, Gimell, Channel Classics and thesixteeendigital.com and at a slightly lower price than the Studio Masters on those labels, but my review is based on the 16-bit version for the sake of parity with the CD.
We have become almost spoilt for choice in the case of Harty’s orchestral music, though the very skimpy article in the Oxford Companion to Music still seems to regard his arrangements of Handel’s Fireworks
and Water Music
as his greatest achievements. His chamber music has been pretty well a closed book heretofore. Though these are not claimed as premiere recordings, I can’t find any rivals in the current catalogue and I don’t remember ever having encountered any, despite pleas in the letter pages of Gramophone
for these three works. Perhaps their failure quite to squeeze onto one CD has been the problem – very remiss of the composer not to foresee this – but Hyperion’s 2-for-1 arrangement neatly solves the problem. With the download, of course, there’s no need even to change discs. We must thank the Australian Council for the Arts – thankfully nothing to do with Barry Humphrey’s Sir Les Patterson persona – for their sponsorship of antipodeans Piers Lane and the Goldner Quartet in this music.
All three works are early pieces and I can’t claim that Hyperion have uncovered lost treasure, though the Piano Quintet is a strong work which in several respects pre-echoes the Elgar Piano Quintet. I’m not sure that it merits the description which Hyperion offer in the blurb on their web-page – ‘a lusciously big-boned work worthy of Tchaikovsky’ – but it receives a robust performance here which brings out its qualities very effectively. There’s exuberance and a hint of Irishness in the vivace
second movement and a lovely winding melody in the lento
third movement where, again, the pentatonic mode is suggestive of folk music, slightly wistful Celtic folk in particular, though no actual folk source exists; it’s all of Harty’s own making. Neither of the outer movements is of quite the same quality, but I shall certainly return to this attractive work, perhaps when relaxing at the end of a trying day.
Piers Lane and the Goldner Quartet have already given us the Elgar Piano Quintet and String Quartet (Hyperion CDA67857
– see review
in which John France characterised this recording as perfect). The first time that I heard their Elgar I thought them a little lacking in intensity, but a second hearing dispelled all but a lingering reservation – see my July 2011/2 Download
Roundup – and I think repeated hearing will do the same for their Harty. I have no benchmarks here as I did for Elgar, but I characterise their performances, here as there, primarily in terms of warmth and tenderness of expression.
The two quartets are less interesting than the Piano Quintet but they too benefit from performances which seem to be idiomatic and which certainly bring out the appeal of the music. The outer movements of No.2 are particularly ear-catching.
The recording is very good, with a generally good balance in the Quintet – the piano perhaps a little too prominent for some tastes. I plan to sample the Studio Master version in a future edition of my bi-monthly Download Roundups, but I can’t imagine that it can
add too much to the CD-quality 16-bit version.
Jeremy Dibble’s notes are a trifle erudite – I’m not sure that all his readers would understand a ‘Neapolitan B major and its dominant F sharp’ – but, as the author of a forthcoming book on Harty, one to watch out for, he’s clearly authoritative and he’s very informative.
Piers Lane and the Goldners have already given us some desirable Hyperion recordings of Bloch (CDA67638
– see review
), Dvorák (CDA67805
– see review
) and, not least the Elgar Piano Quintet to which I’ve referred above. I’m grateful for their latest offering.