VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 March 2006
Harty was born in Ulster, so he still counts as British, that being the official status of this restless province. He received much of his early musical training in Dublin, but moved to London at age 21 and was for many years the chief conductor of the Halle in Manchester, finally reverting to London where among his achievements was giving the premiere of Walton's first symphony. His own music does not break any new ground. It is completely traditional in idiom, like that of, say, Somervell, but the tradition, unlike Somervell's, is not that of Brahms and may vaguely suggest Russian influence.
What we have here is an hour and a quarter of thoroughly pleasant music that makes few or no demands on the listener. There is a Comedy Overture lasting the best part of a quarter of an hour that is not, I hope you will be pleased to hear, 'witty' or 'amusing' music. It is a concert piece, I know of no connexion with any stage comedy, and it is lightweight and melodious, like everything else on this disc. The Fantasy Scenes (from an Eastern Romance) seem to be a concert suite as well. The work fairly obviously rides on the coat-tails of Rimsky's Scheherezade, but the 'oriental' colouring seems pretty token to me, less marked than not just in Rimsky but even in, say, Ketelbey. However my own main interest in buying the disc was to hear Harty's piano concerto, and I expect that will be the main attraction for other prospective purchasers too. This weighs in at something more like the middleweight level, and I expect the liner-note writer is probably right in detecting his Russian influence here, perhaps with faint traces of Chopin. I don't detect much or any German input, nor anything Lisztian in the writing for piano, or indeed for the orchestra either. The finale embodies a little tourist-Irish quoting from 'The Wearing of the Green', but not enough to bother me. In general it's not really Rachmaninov that the music recalls to me so much as Medtner and maybe some of the lesser lights such as Glazunov, but as always it is thoroughly mellifluous as well as being attractively scored for both the solo and the accompaniment.
Music lovers already familiar with this admirable and enterprising series from Naxos will have an idea what to expect, and they should not be disappointed. Donohoe is on reliably good form, and the Ulster Orchestra perform admirably in addition. The volume level of the recording is just on the low side, which hardly rates any status of problem, and I found the tone of the piano particularly agreeable and well suited to the music - lightish and with a pleasant chiming quality about it. Newcomers to the project can be recommended this disc with particular confidence provided it is not depth and profundity that they're after - this music is particularly easy to come to terms with and it makes a thoroughly refreshing change from what one is used to.
There is a liner note of a fairly routine description, but at least it gives some basic background regarding the composer, and there is also Donohoe's own standard blurb assuring us that this series is not about filling in a gap in the market, as if one would care if it were. I wonder where the series will go next. There seem to be more British piano concertos, and good ones too, than had occurred to me. Can it be long, I found myself wondering, before we are regaled with the piano concerto of Donald Francis Tovey himself? If so, I shall sharpen up my appreciation of unexpected modulations to the minor submediant, dramatic returns to main themes and other such Toveyan wonders in the hope of being able to award it his own ultimate accolade of some kind of resemblance to Beethoven at some point. In the meantime, I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of Harty's concerto without the need for such mental rigour, I believe others will enjoy it equally, and I urge as many as I can do so.