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Sir Hamilton Harty (conductor)
Music of the British Isles
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Overture to a Picaresque Comedy (1930) [9:02]
Sir Hamilton HARTY (1879-1941)
With the Wild Geese (Poem for Orchestra) (1910) [15:43]
Scherzo from An Irish Symphony (1904) [3:00]
Londonderry Air arr. Harty [4:21]
Henry Walford DAVIES (1869-1941)
Solemn Melody for Organ and Orchestra (1908) [3:39]
Harold Dawber (organ); Clyde Twelvetrees (cello)
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
The Apostles, Op. 49 – By the Wayside (1903) [7:02]
Dream Children, Op. 43 I. Andante [2:13] II. Allegretto piacevole [2:40]
Variations on an Original Theme (“Enigma”), Op. 36 (1899) [27:21]
Dora Labbette (soprano); Hubert Eisdell (tenor); Dennis Noble (baritone); Robert Easton (bass); Harold Williams (bass)
Hallé Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra (Bax), Hallé Orchestra
rec. 1926-35

Pristine Audio has certainly not been neglectful of Hamilton Harty’s legacy on disc and the label boasts a sizeable roster of releases in which he directs symphonic music or accompanies soloists. Some of that music is British, of course, so this latest disc, ‘Harty conducts music of the British Isles’ is a handy catch-all title but not one that implies that he didn’t conducts other things – like accompanying WH Squire in the Elgar, for one example, which Pristine has also released.

The main work is the Enigma Variations but there are a number of other things to interest even if I believe everything here has been reissued in some form or other before now. Such is the case when it comes to Bax’s Overture to a Picaresque Comedy, dedicated to and premiered by Harty and previously out on Symposium 1169 and Dutton CDLX7016. The Abbey Road recording and Beecham’s newly formed LPO – their only appearance in this disc, as everything else is with the Hallé - ensure a performance brimming with spirit, flair, instrumental finesse and not to omit the work’s luscious B section. He recorded very little of his own music but With the Wild Geese was recorded in Columbia’s Petty France studios in London in 1926. This was not the most congenial studio – a bit cramped and sometimes microphone placement could be hit and miss. There were also bad pitch fluctuations which, thankfully, Andrew Rose has ironed out. Nevertheless, despite the cramped acoustic the performance survives, its warm and characterful solos buttressed by a strong affiliation with the music’s folkloric and military elements. The Scherzo from Harty’s An Irish Symphony is three minutes of jauntiness. Incidentally, I hope one day that we can hear the preserved live performance of With the Wild Geese with Harty directing the BBC Symphony in 1938 alongside the extant Children of Lir with Isobel Baillie the following year and An Irish Symphony (complete but with gaps for side changes). Enthusiasts will know that at least one of Harty’s Hollywood Bowl performances was recorded.

He directs Walford Davies’ Solemn Melody with great dignity, the orchestra’s cello principal, Clyde Twelvetrees – who made a few solo sides for Columbia – bringing distinction as does organist Harold Dawber as the music reaches its taut apotheosis. Harty’s arrangement of the Londonderry Air is cast for solo violin – the fine leader, Alfred Barker, I assume – harp and strings.

The rest is Elgar. Dream Children was a filler to the Enigma Variations. By the Wayside is a very beautiful scene from The Apostles and directed with great sensitivity. It featured a raft of leading British singers in Dora Labbette (soprano), Hubert Eisdell (tenor), Dennis Noble (baritone), Robert Easton (bass) and Harold Williams (bass) along with the orchestra and its chorus. Each of the voices is utterly distinctive - certainly of a time and place – and not all will appeal to contemporary sensibilities. I’ve always particularly liked Labbette’s purity and Williams’ dignity. It must have been rather expensive for Columbia to engage all these soloists, as well as the band and singers, and Harty, for just seven minutes of music.

Harty’s 1931 Enigma has been on an ‘All Enigma’ Pearl CD coupled with Henry Wood’s 1935 Decca set. Perhaps someone would disinter Wood’s late acoustic version which doesn’t seem ever to have had commercial release. Wood could be a bluff Elgarian – see the Violin Concerto, where he made an excellent foil for Sammons (though there’s very strong evidence Sammons took it somewhat slower under others) – but his Decca Enigma is rather erratic and fitful. I much prefer Harty’s way with it. W.M.B is movingly done and whilst one wouldn’t confuse the Hallé with the Philadelphians in Troyte or G.R.S one can enjoy the delectable slides in W.N., and Harty’s subtle rubati in Nimrod. His was an orchestra much given to portamento and it’s only badly overused – but this for expressive purposes – in B.G.N when the device’s uniform use is simply overpowering and unfortunately succeeds only in lessening (ironically) the emotive intensity of the music. But his finale is good – kept steady, with canny fluctuations of tempo, and never rushing the bars.

Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfers are top drawer here and bring every facet of the music to the listener without dampening frequencies. I hope one day he will get his hands on Harty’s late acoustic Bruch Concerto with Sammons, of which we badly need a first-class transfer (the only other one was the opposite). This Harty series is moving on with considerable distinction.

Jonathan Woolf

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