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Hamilton HARTY
An Irish Symphony (1904: revised 1915 & 1924)
With the Wild Geese (1910)
In Ireland (1915)
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland/Proinssías O Duinn
rec [National Concert Hall, Ireland April 1996]
NAXOS 8.554732 [57.20]

"Three great works by one of Ireland's greatest composers." "With the Wild Geese is perhaps one of the finest tone poems in the British Music repertoire."

It is an important event to have a new recording of three of Herbert Hamilton Harty's most effective works.

Naxos have teamed up with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and their Principal Conductor Proinssías O Duinn in this performance of An Irish Symphony, With the Wild Geese and In Ireland.

All three works have been previously recorded - issued on Chandos under a number of guises but all performed by the Ulster Orchestra under Bryden Thomson - an equally good rendition. [see review] The tone poem With the Wild Geese also exists in a recording by the SNO under Sir Alexander Gibson on HMV coupled with works by German, MacCunn and Smyth.

The Irish Symphony stands in a line of so-named pieces including those by Sir Arthur Sullivan, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and the Italian composer Michele Esposito. Peter Quinn's less than comprehensive (for me) sleeve notes tells us little about this work - for a more detailed understanding we have to turn to David Greer's book on the composer and his notes for the Chandos releases.

Hamilton Harty [born Hillsborough Co. Down] had entered a number of works in the Feis Ceoil in Dublin. This was a festival begun in the days after the death of Parnell in May 1897 and took the form of a competition. Harty became involved as official accompanist and soon became acquainted with the legendary singer John McCormack. Harty's String Quartet in F: Opus 1 was given its first hearing in 1900 to considerable praise from the local press. In 1904 it was the turn of his Symphony to take the prize. Unlike the Symphonies by Sullivan and Stanford this was based firmly on Irish tunes. And there was a definite verbal programme.

The first movement was entitled 'On the Shores of Lough Neagh' - a sonata-form piece which made use of two well known Irish melodies 'Avenging & Bright' and 'The Croppy Boy.' These two tunes make the first and second subjects respectively. A third tune - devised by the composer himself in truly Irish vein, is used in the development.

The second movement is entitled 'The Fair Day' . In its time this piece has often stood alone -a recording exists of the composer conducting the Hallé playing this. The local fiddler tunes up and then begins a reel - 'The Blackberry Blossom.' Further melodies are used in this well written scherzo. A respite is gained with 'The Girl I left Behind me.' Harty apparently attempted to mimic the marching bands from Ulster.

The Third Movement is a Lento ma non troppo. It is given the programmatic title 'In the Antrim hills' The composer said that this was 'a wistful lament' based on the ancient song - Jimin Mo Mhile Stor. Greer gives a quotation from this poem in his notes for the Chandos recording:-

You maidens, now pity the sorrowful moan I make;
I am a young girl in grief for my darling's sake;
My true love's absence in sorrow I grieve full sore,
And each day I lament for my Jimin Mo Mhile Stor.'

The development of this tune is not really in a formal style. In fact it has all the feel of an improvisation about it - this is hardly surprising as Harty was an accomplished organist and choirmaster.

The last movement is a celebration of the Battle of the Boyne - 'The Twelfth of July'. Harty's youthful acquaintance with the Orange marching bands coming to the fore. The tune which haunts this movement is 'Boyne Water', although the strains of the slow movement are heard -with the 'Jimin Mo' theme being restated in the finale.

The present recording is vibrant. Harty was a great conductor as well as a composer. He understood orchestral colour and wrote with great sympathy towards the players. This mastery of the orchestra is obvious in the playing on this CD. Given the difficulty in composing a symphony around folk tunes, Harty gives a surprisingly good result.

The couplings are equally compelling. Harty 'dished up' an orchestral version of the fantasy 'In Ireland' which was originally composed for flute and piano in the last year of the first world war. Much later in his life, in 1935 he made an arrangement for flute, harp and orchestra. The score is prefaced by a short note:- "In a Dublin street at dusk two wandering street musicians are playing."

Once again we appear to be in the presence of an improvisation. In fact it is a highly structured piece. Mood writing would be a good description. We are not allowed to remain melancholy or gay for long. The Irish idiom is never far from these pages. Perhaps one feels that the superscription is slightly misleading. It is a well written and deeply moving piece. Nothing much to do with 'busking'. I notice that the harpist and the flute player remain anonymous on the sleeve.

I plan to write more extensively about the remaining piece on this disk- With the Wild Geese. However, it must be said that this is in my opinion one of the finest 'tone poems' written by any composer from the British Isles. Once again one must not become over burdened by the programme. Although the piece is prefaced by two poems from the Anglo-Irish poet Emily Lawless, it is as much a music painting of Ireland as it is a political or historical narrative.

However, the concept of the Irish fighting abroad in other men's wars has always been a strong 'folk' motive in Eire -especially as it was seen as the being the fault of the 'governing power' that Catholics were not allowed to fight in the 'local' armies. The Irish Brigade distinguished itself in may campaigns - none more so than the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. It was believed that the ghosts of the slain would return to their homeland. They would return as Wild Geese, flying over the coasts of Clare County.

The superb scoring and vivid atmosphere is beautifully rendered by Proinssias and the orchestra.

Harty has been reasonably served by recording companies over the past twenty years - especially Chandos. Most of his 'big' works are or have been available. Perhaps Naxos could do admirers of this composer proud by recording some pieces which remain unheard to this generation: for example The Mystic Trumpeter (a Walt Whitman setting), the chamber music and piano music.

John France

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