HARTY: Piano Concerto (Ulster Orchestra) (Peter Donohoe/ Takuo Yuasa/ Ulster Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.557731)
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Hamilton Harty (1879-1941)
Piano Concerto A Comedy Overture Fantasy Scenes
Hamilton Harty was born in 1879 in the small town ofHillsborough, in Northern Ireland, about twelve milessouth of Belfast. His first teacher was his father, organistat the parish church, and a versatile musician, and themusic that he heard in his youth, whether it was Handelor the folk-music of the local people, was of seminalimportance in the formation of his musical personality.
Harty's first musical appointments were as organistat churches in Northern Ireland. When he was aboutsixteen he moved to Dublin, where he met the Italiancomposer, pianist and pedagogue, Michele Esposito.
The influence and encouragement of Esposito were ofgreat importance to him, a fact acknowledged in thededication of two of the works recorded here, A ComedyOverture and the Piano Concerto, to his friend andmentor.
At the end of the nineteenth century, however,Ireland did not have the musical infra-structure tosupport a professional career at the highest level. In1900 Harty moved to London, where he made his namefirst as a piano accompanist, and then as a conductor,with the London Symphony Orchestra and later inManchester with the Halle Orchestra. He was principalconductor of the Halle from 1920 to 1933, and thespecial relationship that he formed with that orchestracan still be appreciated in their many recordings. Hechampioned the music of Berlioz at a time when thatcomposer was still generally unappreciated, and heintroduced new works to the British public, includingMahler's Ninth Symphony in 1930 and Shostakovich'sFirst in 1932. After leaving the Halle he worked mainlywith London orchestras: important occasions includedthe first performances of Walton's First Symphony(1934) and Bax's Sixth (1935). He received aknighthood in 1925 and the gold medal of the RoyalPhilharmonic Society in 1934. He died in 1941.
The years 1900-1920 were Harty's most fertileperiod as a composer. As he achieved success as aconductor he had less time for composition. His earlyworks consisted mainly of songs and chamber music,but he ventured increasingly into the orchestral sphere asopportunities for performance grew. Many of his worksare overtly celtic in character, with titles andprogrammes that proclaim their Irishness, such as AnIrish Symphony (1904), With the Wild Geese (1910),Variations on a Dublin Air (1912), and The Children ofLir (1938), but even in the works that are not explicitlyIrish, such as A Comedy Overture and the PianoConcerto, the influence of Irish folk-music is apparent inturns of phrase, modal harmonies, and dance rhythms.
Harty's creative spirit was essentially a Romantic one,and shades of mainstream European composers likeBrahms, Dvofiak and Tchaikowsky are present in hismusic. The influence of Tchaikowsky, and Harty's idolBerlioz, are to be heard in the colourful and imaginativewriting for the orchestra..
A Comedy Overture, composed in 1906 and firstperformed at a Queen's Hall Promenade Concert in1907, was one of the works which brought Harty towider notice as a composer. The title simply reflects thelively character of the music, and does not imply anytheatrical connection. There are two main themes: thefirst is heard on the oboe after the bustling introduction,and its jaunty rhythm pervades much of the music; thesecond is slower and is first heard on the woodwind.
Two instances must suffice to illustrate the varied andimaginative way in which Harty treats these themes.
One occurs at the end of the development section, wherethe piccolo (over a bagpipe drone on the bassoons)embarks on a recapitulation of the first theme in the'wrong key'. It is then left to the timpanist to beat out theright notes and prepare the way for the realrecapitulation on the clarinet. The other example occurslater in the piece, when the second theme is heard on thecellos with the harmonies most subtly altered.
Fantasy Scenes (From an Eastern Romance) wascomposed in 1919 and first performed by the Halle thefollowing year. It paints the conventional 'ArabianNights' picture of the East which was popular at thattime, as made famous in music by Rimsky-Korsakov'sScheherazade. Harty provided the four movements witha programme:I. The Laughing Juggler. The Sultan, having heard of theskill and wit of Mohammed, the 'Laughing Juggler', hascommanded his attendance. The Juggler is performinghis most brilliant feats, at the same time keeping up aflow of amusing chatter, when his eye falls uponZuleika, the Sultan's favourite dancing girl. Enrapturedby her beauty, he endeavours to give to his jesting wordsa deeper meaning, which she will understand.
II. A Dancer's Reverie. Zuleika is reclining by thefountain in the courtyard. It is dusk; she is alone.
Fragments of dance-tunes mingle drowsily in her mindwith thoughts of the handsome Juggler and hissignificant words and glances.
III. Lonely in Moonlight. The Juggler is wandering in thepalace gardens by moonlight and sings of his love forZuleika.
IV. In the Slave Market. The Sultan, having discoveredthe love of Zuleika and Mohammed, has banished thelatter and sentenced Zuleika to be sold into slavery. It isnoonday, and the market is crowded. Dealers areappraising the charms of Zuleika. They are all outbid bya stranger. It is the Juggler, disguised as a merchant. Hecarries off Zuleika, and the lovers escape from the city.
Harty's Piano Concerto in B minor was composedat Fiesole in Italy in 1922 while the composer wasstaying with the Espositos. Harty was the soloist(Beecham conducting) in the first performance thefollowing year, and the bravura writing for the soloinstrument is a reminder of what a fine pianist he was.
The work is very much in the Romantic tradition, withshades of Rachmaninov in the piano and orchestralwriting, the chromaticisms, the beguiling countermelodies,and the air of lingering melancholy. In thefirst movement the main theme is first given to theorchestra while the piano supplies a toccata-likeaccompaniment. The second theme is first heard on thewoodwind before being taken up by the soloist. In thedevelopment section Chopinesque filigree work leads toa cadenza before the main themes are repeated. Thesecond movement features a long, pensive melodypunctuated by orchestral interludes. Trumpet fanfaresherald a more decisive middle section, before the maintheme returns newly dressed, with soft chimes of a bell,and solo violin and cello adding to the magical effect.
Irish traits are more strongly to the fore in the robustfinale, not only in the jig-like rhythms and modalcharacter of the main material, but in passing allusionsto an Irish tune, 'The Wearing of the Green'. This is firstheard on horns and muted trumpets in a mysteriouspassage in the middle of the movement, and later on itreturns in a blaze of glory.David Greer