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4.1 out of 5 stars
4
Sir Hamilton Harty: Piano Concerto; Fantasy Scenes; Comedy Overture
Format: Audio CD|Change
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VINE VOICEon 19 March 2006
Hamilton Harty's music is immediately accessible, well-crafted, and does not deserve the neglect it has largely fallen into.I was therefore looking forward to this latest Naxos release: spreading the word, if you like. Unfortunately, despite my general admiration for Peter Donohoe, as far as the 'meat' of this CD is concerned, the performance of the piano concerto is a severe disappointment- not because of the technical accomplishment of the soloist, which is never in doubt, but through a perverse interpretation which does not allow the concerto to demonstrate its true colours.
The sad fact is that this reading of the score is taken at a hectic pace which does not allow the fine melodic writing any space to breathe, highlights weaknesses in the orchestral ensemble and misses so much of the filigree detail. The recording is a full seven minutes shorter than the classic Malcolm Binns performance on Chandos and the outer movements are blurred at speed: what makes sense in Binns' account appears bizarre here.
Strange that the Ulster Orchestra appears in both outings for this piece.
My rating would have been much lower had it not been for the quality of the recording and the orchestral playing in the accompanying Comedy Overture and Fantasy Scenes, both of which contain vivid and enjoyable music.
All in all, a lost opportunity.
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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.
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on 22 May 2006
Until the 1980s when Chandos came out with their series of CDs with music of Sir Hamilton Harty, my only association with his name was as the arranger of bits and bobs of Handel that would occasionally feature in the programs of my provincial American hometown orchestra, always labeled as by 'Handel-Harty.' Then I became familiar, via the Chandos recordings, of a couple of the pieces included here -- the Comedy Overture and the Piano Concerto, the latter played by Malcolm Binns. Those recordings were by the Ulster Orchestra as here, but under the direction of Bryden Thomson. Those recordings -- along with his Irish Symphony -- let me know that Harty's expert orchestrations sounded more Russian than English and that his music was unfailingly tuneful, and that the music had more than a tinge of an Irish brogue.

The 1906 Comedy Overture is a brisk, bustling, good-humored romp -- only later does one realize that it is in fairly classic sonata-allegro form -- with a particularly beguiling lyrical second subject in the woodwinds. This performance is actually better than the Thomson-led recording if only because the Ulster Orchestra seems more confident here. (I still reocmmend that Chandos recording, though, because it contains Harty's 'Irish Symphony,' a performance that betters the competing rather too-fast version on an earlier Naxos CD.)

'Fantasy Scenes (from an Eastern Romance)' is a negligible effort, although again one marvels at Harty's abilities as an orchestrator. Musically, though, it is a pale imitation of the then-exotic Eastern sound captured by composers like Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky. There is some embarrassingly trite hootchy-kootchy music that is hard to listen to. Ketelbey did it better. The performance, though, is expert.

Peter Donohoe, well into his valuable ongoing project of recording British piano concertos, is a bankable commodity in anything he plays. I loved his recording of the Second Concerto of the obscure Mancunian composer, Thomas Pitfield., and I can hardly wait to hear his just-released recording of the John Foulds concerto, 'Dynamic Triptych.' The Harty concerto takes its musical gestures from the Tchaikovsky/Rachmaninoff school and although not rising quite to their level, is an entirely pleasant concoction. I particularly liked the lyrical second movement with its Chopinesque filigree and dramatic brass interjections. The third movement is a rumbustious Irish jig with quotations of 'The Wearin' of the Green.' This strikes me as a better performance than the concerto's previous recording with pianist Malcolm Binns, although I must admit that in the confusion of a recent move I've not been able to find the Binns CD to make a direct comparison.

Sound is good, the playing of the Ulster Orchestra under Takuo Yuasa is excellent, and for the piano concerto this is the one to have.

Scott Morrison
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on 15 February 2006
At last, Northern Ireland's greatest composer (after the late Howard Ferguson) gets the calibre of professional committment he deserves. Donohoe has done yet another outstanding job by virtue of his effortless virtuosity and sharp musical intelligence. This man is surely underrated in Britain. The Harty concerto is a big-boned Romantic beast with a certain Tchaikovskian flavour and more than a hint of Irish melancholy. There is nothing offensive to the ear here - I recommend this lovely work Harty-ily!!
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