HARTY: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2; Piano Quintet – Goldner String Quartet/ Piers Lane, p. – Hyperion

by | May 14, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

HAMILTON HARTY: String Quartet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 1; String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 5; Piano Quintet in F Major, Op. 12 – Goldner String Quartet/ Piers Lane, piano – Hyperion CDA67927 (2 CDs), TT: 82:55 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Hamilton Harty (1879-1941), violist, pianist, organist, conductor and composer, constituted what Ned Rorem would consider “a triple threat” in music, a truly imposing figure in Irish cultural history. His 1900 String Quartet in F Major gained him some fame through the Feis Ceoil, a competitive music festival organized by Italian musician Michele Esposito. The fecund imagination and instrumental dexterity of the piece assails and delights us at once, since the opening Allegro has girth and developmental audacity, and the succeeding Scherzo in D Minor exudes a dexterous panache short lived but exuberantly pungent. The B-flat Major Andante pastorale pays homage to Dvorak and Mendelssohn, with luscious parts for the cello of Julian Smiles and Dene Olding’s lead violin. Not surprisingly, the viola part (Irina Morozova) proves no less beguiling in the richly textured melos, suddenly interrupted by the Scherzo as its central section. The last movement Allegro vivace plays as an askew rondo with highly chromatic episodes. Once more, the resonant cello leads the melodic line in figures that approach a waltz form that attracts polyphonic development. Do we hear hints from Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 in D Major? Harty takes a page from Beethoven and Schubert, delaying the true recapitulation by lingering in E-flat Major. The coda provides the Goldner Quartet whiplash effects which they bring off with vibrant aplomb.
Harty composed his F Major Piano Quintet in 1904, ostensibly for a piano quintet competition offered by a wealthy patroness, Ada Lewis-Hill. The scale of Harty’s first-prize-winning piano quintet looms large, much in the grand manner of the F Minor Franck Quintet and the Schumann E-flat Quintet. As audacious as Schubert in his developmental strategies, Harty favors modulations to the subdominant and Neapolitan cadences, evolving melodically and contrapuntally rather than through any formulaic sense of classicism. The jaunty rhythms smack of both Dvorak and Debussy (Golliwog), a hybrid of folkish and jazzy impulses. One violin melody seems about to quote Dvorak’s famous Humoresque, Op. 107. The emotional urgency and passionate flair Piers Lane brings to the fervor of the strings should ensure repeated listening to this tempestuous movement.
Harty’s favored viola leads off the scherzo Vivace, a pentatonic tune that literally quotes from the Schumann Piano Quintet. In diatonic harmony and fabricated “Irish” melos, the piece could have been penned by a playful Percy Grainger. But for purely heartfelt, romantic music of the soil, we have to audition the Lento in A Minor. With the tell-tale flattened seventh of the relative key of C, the music assumes a distinctly Irish affect. The A Minor and its relative C Major compete for dominance throughout this impassioned song, the periods seemingly lifted from Tchaikovsky’s workbook, especially in his A Minor Piano Trio. Whether Harty wants us to construe him as Irish or Russian becomes a real puzzle by the movement’s late pages, where Lane and the Goldner layer the song in multiple octaves and in triplets, a sentimental Slavic evocation, if ever one could be synthesized. The piano part near the coda might nod as well to Edvard Grieg as well to the thick urgency of Cesar Franck. A host of Russians parades in the last movement Allegro con brio, colorfully and exotically presented in bold terms that, in the second subject, seem lifted from Tchaikovsky’s ubiquitous B-flat Minor Concerto, and in the same key. Despite any sense of imitation or borrowing, Harty’s natural emotional effusion and plenum of ideas keep the music running at a brisk and fluent pace, almost too rich to be contained by prescribed forms, a truly sweeping gesture brilliantly executed.
The Quartet in A Minor, Op. 5 (1901) won first prize at the Dublin Feis of 1902.  Its spirit immediately invokes Brahms or Schumann: it features Harty’s preferred viola part in an opening movement Allegro non troppo that sounds alternately aggressive and lyrically melancholic. The textures, in arco song and pizzicato, move through contrapuntal treatment that indicates a great deal of growth on Harty’s part since his 1900 opus in F Major. The Scherzo is marked Vivace sempre leggiero and presents us with a jig in 9/8 with a trio section in 2/4. The Goldner negotiates its canny metric shifts with Irish élan, a folksy hop-and-skip that assumes a poignant affect in the trio. The third movement, Lento, again attests to Harty’s power as a melodist, and the second subject will appear cyclically in the Molto vivace of the Finale. The evolving song of the slow movement, cast as a concertante part for first violin and supporting strings, easily suggests the influence of Dvorak. The Finale presents a busy series ideas, starting as a bucolic jaunt that becomes a progressively intricate and colorful waltz, moving to a chorale in a far-away F-sharp Minor. By the end of this debonair subtle moment of chamber music, we are convinced that Harty’s mastery of the medium promised many more riches.
—Gary Lemco

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