Hamilton Harty Piano Quintet & Strings Quartets

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COMPOSERS: Sir Herbet Hamilton Harty
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Hamilton Harty Piano Quintet & Strings Quartets
WORKS: Piano Quintet in F; String Quartets Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Piers Lane (piano); Goldner String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDA67927

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Readers who retain fond memories of London and Dublin’s musical seasons between 1900 and 1906 may be familiar with these chamber works by Sir Hamilton Harty. The rest of us will be encountering them for the first time, discovering in the process new facets of a fascinating Irish figure still recalled mostly as a gifted conductor with a special flair in Berlioz. Those who can whistle the big tune in his Romantic tone poem With the Wild Geese will find similar breezy melodies here, particularly in the Irish-salted Piano Quintet, equipped with a scherzo whose folksy quirks and nonchalance recall the creations of Percy Grainger. These early pieces, written when Harty’s public profile was chiefly as a piano accompanist, also show us a composer schooled in Brahms, Mendelssohn and other peaks of 19th-century chamber music.

Lovingly performed, Hyperion’s two-disc programme presents the works in reverse chronological order; though there’s value in pursuing the strict historical path. That way, we can follow Harty’s progress from the lively if sometimes gauche String Quartet No. 1 (1900), through the enlarged confidence, deeper feeling, and more idiomatic writing of No. 2 (1902), to the larger span of the 1904 Piano Quintet, the most maverick and Irish piece of the lot. The Goldner String Quartet, joined in the Quintet by fellow Australian Piers Lane, display just the right warmth and spirit to suit this attractive music, much of it written con brio. Jeremy Dibble’s notes are rather dry, but Hyperion’s succulent recording is a peach.

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Geoff Brown