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Hyperion Records

CDA67927 - Harty: String Quartets & Piano Quintet
The Heart of the Rose (1902) by Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh (1865-1933)
Private Collection / Photo © Christie's Images / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: June 2011
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Hayes
Engineered by Ben Connellan
Release date: May 2012
DISCID: 700DDC08 31058F04
Total duration: 82 minutes 46 seconds

'Here, most valuably, we have three of Harty's important chamber works … Piers Lane plays immaculately with great sympathy … and the Goldner Quartet play warmly to bring out the finest qualities of the music. Altogether a delightful disc of music neglected for far too long' (Gramophone)

'The Goldner String Quartet, joined in the Quintet by Piers Lane, displays just the right warmth and spirit to suit this attractive music … Hyperion's succulent recording is a peach' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Harty's melodies are appealing and graceful, the counterpoint is never overwrought … song-like passages intervene in the Scherzo [of the Second Quartet], and there is more Romantic song in the third movement, at one point most exquisitely decorated by one violin while the other sustains the song … [the Piano Quartet] is a joy to hear, in a performance that is compelling from first to last … I welcome this release with enthusiasm: no-one could fail to enjoy it' (International Record Review)

'Piers Lane anime les franches carrures du quintette au brio, les excellents Goldner jouant d'abord la finesse de leurs archets, sonnant clairs, sans aucune dureté. Les paysages se dessinent, la lyrique tendre du compositeur s'épanouit' (Diapason, France)

String Quartets & Piano Quintet
Allegro  [10'23]
with Piers Lane (piano)
Vivace  [4'06]
with Piers Lane (piano)
Lento  [9'30]
with Piers Lane (piano)
Lento  [7'03]
Allegro con brio  [8'33]
Vivace  [2'52]
Allegro vivace  [5'38]

Acclaimed pianist Piers Lane and his fellow Australians, the Goldner String Quartet, reprise their highly successful partnership in these world-premiere recordings of the two String Quartets and Piano Quintet of Irish composer Hamilton Harty. Born in County Down, Harty (1879–1941) was a remarkable, self-taught musician who wrote in a lyrical Romantic idiom, as evidenced in these appealing works, while incorporating a modal astringency and folk-music charm that are reminiscent of Percy Grainger. In particular, the winding, pentatonic melody of the Lento of the Piano Quintet—a lusciously big-boned work worthy of Tchaikovsky—and the delightful 9/8 ‘hop jig’ of the first movement of String Quartet No 2 seem like settings of folk-melodies that have echoed for centuries around the green hills of Ireland. Intriguingly, however, they are entirely Harty’s own invention.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Herbert Hamilton Harty was born in the village of Hillsborough, County Down in Northern Ireland on 4 December 1879. From a large and happy family, he was the fourth child (of ten) and third son of William Harty, the organist of St Malachy’s, Hillsborough, and a versatile all-round musician. William Harty ran the music in the local area of Lisburn, which included choral societies and instrumental concerts, and was highly regarded as one of the finest musicians in Ulster. The Gothic church of St Malachy’s, one of the finest of its type anywhere in Britain or Ireland, was built by the local aristocratic family of the Hills of Hillsborough Castle at the zenith of their wealth and influence. From the age of twelve or so, Harty was already playing the organ for services in the church, and it was here, almost certainly, that he developed his astonishing musicianship. At home he learned the piano under his father’s guidance and also the viola with moderate proficiency. Harty always claimed that his father was an outstanding musician and that he was one of the finest and most outward-looking of his generation in Ireland. This was borne out, so Harty maintained, by the extraordinary music library he possessed. The availability of this library to the young, self-taught Harty was more than enough to satiate his appetite. There was chamber music which various members of his family could play, with him contributing the viola part and his father the cello, and there was an abundance of piano music which ultimately became the focus of his studies away from his somewhat intermittent formal education at local schools.

Harty’s prowess as an organist soon permitted him to look for church jobs away from Hillsborough, first at Magheragall in 1894, a few miles away, and in Belfast in 1896, but it was as the organist of Christchurch, Bray, between 1896 and 1901, that Harty’s enviable abilities as an accompanist blossomed. In nearby Dublin, musical activity was fast expanding under the aegis of the Italian pianist and composer Michele Esposito, who played a crucial role in the foundation of the Feis Ceoil in 1897, a distinctly national competitive music festival, and the Dublin Orchestral Society in 1899. Harty and Esposito probably met for the first time in 1899 when Harty elected to audition for the DOS. The Italian was not especially prepossessed by the Ulsterman’s proficiency as a violist but there was clearly a mutual respect for each other’s innate musical ability; and though Harty did not, as he claimed, become a formal pupil of Esposito, he nevertheless showed him everything he composed and the Italian was quite evidently an important influence in his early development as a composer (and later as a conductor).

The Feis Ceoil played a vital role in Ireland’s cultural revival. Esposito earnestly campaigned for the festival to offer composition prizes in order to encourage the creative talent of native Irish citizens and those of Irish descent abroad. No doubt with Esposito’s encouragement, Harty entered his first chamber work, a Violin Sonata (now lost), in 1899. It did not win a prize, but the following year he was successful with his String Quartet No 1 in F major, Op 1, the first movement of which was played at the Feis. This Quartet was in fact not his first effort in the genre. An earlier work in A minor dates from March 1898 and may have been intended for the 1898 Feis, but it was probably not entered on account of its numerous flaws. By 1900, however, Harty’s technique had moved on appreciably. The first movement of the F major Quartet, full of invention and artifice, reveals if anything an over-ambition for developmental treatment in its zeal to explore new keys and new transformations. Yet one can detect a savoir faire in the handling of the quartet apparatus, and the melodic material is resourceful, bright and invigorating in its joie de vivre and contrapuntal dexterity. The will-o’-the-wisp scherzo in D minor, surely inspired by his knowledge of the late quartets of Beethoven and Mendelssohn, shows real flair in its quick-silver scoring and its love of tonal surprise, especially in the trio. The pastoral slow movement in B flat major is more expansive melodically and is richly scored. It also incorporates another surprise—the unexpected interpolation of the scherzo at its centre. The vivacious and technically demanding finale, which possesses musical ideas of lyrical interest and contrapuntal ingenuity, is an engaging if eccentric structure. Harty’s developmental phase begins in a remarkably chromatic manner (curiously suggestive of Bruckner) which leads with some surprise to a false yet extended recapitulation of the opening thematic material in E flat major. Even more unexpected, however, is the introduction of an entirely new episode before F major is restored for the final reprise, which has, by now, taken on the rhetorical mantle of a ‘rondo’ theme.

Harty’s String Quartet No 2 in A minor, Op 5, was composed after he moved to London in March 1901. There he rapidly became the capital’s leading accompanist and was in considerable demand by the most prominent soloists of the day, among them Fritz Kreisler, Harry Plunket Greene and Agnes Nicholls (whom he married in 1904). Like the first Quartet, the second was a prizewinner, this time for the Dublin Feis of 1902 where it was successfully premiered on 8 May. Harty was in the audience to hear it played by his friends from the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Arthur Darley, P J Griffith, Octave Grisard and Henri Bast. Its second and last hearing (prior to the present recording) was given by four prominent London musicians, Alfred Gibson, Juliet Capron, Alfred Hobday and Helen Trust, on 22 December 1902 at Copped Hall, Totteridge, Hertfordshire, the home of Sir Harold Edwin Boulton, an amateur poet and music-lover.

Revealing a marked advance on the first Quartet, this work, featuring a prominent ‘autobiographical’ viola part, is at once more fluent. The first movement evinces a greater sense of technical mastery of the quartet idiom, a feature, in fact, common to all four movements. The lilting ‘hop jig’ scherzo in 9/8, fertile in its dexterous manipulation of the hemiola, acts as a more vivid contrast with its trio in 2/4, while the slow movement imparts a more convincing sense of balance than its earlier counterpart in the first Quartet, as well as an intensely lyrical and more personal emotionalism at the climax. The imaginative finale, full of rhythmical élan, exhibits perhaps the most intricate writing for the quartet in the whole work, and the more embellished use of the slow movement’s second subject as secondary material is an effective cyclic touch. The appearance of this material in the unexpected and unconventional area of the subdominant reflects Esposito’s influence, but the most unusual introduction of new material—a chorale-like theme in F sharp minor—in the development and the much-truncated recapitulation reveal an entirely maverick streak of Harty’s personality which had been anticipated in the corresponding movement of the F major Quartet.

In 1904 Harty embarked on the composition of another large-scale chamber work, the Piano Quintet in F major, Op 12, which he entered for a prize advertised by the immensely wealthy Ada Lewis-Hill, a well-known philanthropist and patron of the arts. Lewis-Hill was known for her love music. She endowed numerous instrumental prizes at the Royal Academy of Music, owned several valuable pianos and stringed instruments, among them numerous Stradivari. As Arthur Benjamin recollected, she ‘was a London woman of fashion and wealth … who was the queen of a kind of court, with musicians attached. Zillah was one of her maids-of-honour’, others being the Hungarian violinist Tivadar Nachéz and W H Squire, the cellist. In fact Nachéz and Squire formed part of a regular quintet ensemble which included the violist Alfred Hobday and the pianist Benno Schönberger who would often provide music for the benevolent patroness at her evening soirées. A prize for a piano quintet, which offered the princely sum of fifty guineas to its winner, therefore essentially paid tribute to the loyal players of the quintet which had for many years entertained Mrs Lewis-Hill (until her death in 1906). Schönberger, Mackenzie and Cowen were the adjudicators, and from a pool of almost forty compositions Harty’s Quintet was announced the winner in January 1905. After a private hearing at Mrs Lewis-Hill’s home, the Quintet was given its first public performance soon afterwards for the ‘Concert Club’ at the Bechstein Hall on 29 January 1905, with Enrique Fernández Arbós (the Club’s musical director), T F Morris, Alfred Hobday and Purcell Jones, Harty at the piano, although the surviving programme suggests that only the first and second movements were actually given. Possibly because the composer chose to revise it, the work was not performed again until 7 December 1906, when it formed part of a concert of British music given by the Concert-Goers’ Club at the Langham Hotel. This, it seems, was probably its only complete hearing in public.

Harty’s Quintet is a bold, big-boned, passionate work of symphonic proportions and stands happily beside those large-scale Romantic utterances of Schumann, Brahms, Dvorák, César Franck, Fauré, Stanford and (later) Elgar in the same genre. This is music on a grand scale, full of melodic invention, where the idiom of piano and string quartet, susceptible to hybrid treatment, is dexterously manipulated polyphonically and antiphonally. With his established reputation as a pianist, Harty gave full prominence to the piano so that at times it competes with the strings like a concerto soloist.

Harty’s concept of the first movement is indeed largely orchestral. A rhythmically dynamic idea, presented in unison by the strings, gives way to a spacious composite theme shared among the instruments and surrounded by elaborate filigree. In a manner akin to Schubert, this extended paragraph closes in F and yields to an equally generous second subject, a pentatonic, folk-inspired melody in the subdominant, by now a common choice in the tonal organization of Harty’s sonata schemes. This extended section also closes unequivocally in B flat, but not before Harty has subjected the self-developing theme to a colourful, not to say dramatic series of modulations which passes through the Neapolitan B major, and its dominant F sharp. The recovery from D flat major, established at the development’s climax, is impressively executed, and the restatement of the second subject, appropriately in D flat, is imaginatively handled as Harty uses the return to F, in turbulent mood, as a fresh means of thematic reworking. The restoration of the tonic is marked by triumphal piano fanfares, displaced from their normal position in the recapitulation, a strident manner later subdued by the tranquil interjections of the string quartet which set the tone for the reflective coda (in which the viola plays a conspicuous role on its lowest, most sonorous string).

For the principal theme of his scherzo (assigned yet again to the viola), Harty resorted once more to a synthetic pentatonicism to create an ‘Irish’ theme, though this time the character of his material has a striking affinity with the arrangements of popular folk melodies by Percy Grainger. This is felt not only in the panache of the instrumentation—which is remarkably rich and vibrant, not least in the use of pizzicato—but also in the use of vigorous diatonic harmony, quirky modulations and countermelodies for which Grainger was renowned (in works such as Shepherd’s Hey, Handel in the Strand and the Irish reel Molly on the Shore). Harty’s structure, a beautifully crafted sonata, is also highly adroit, much skill being invested in the entertaining dialogue between piano and quartet in the development and in the playful and unexpected tonal divergencies.

If an Irish flavour is evident in the scherzo, then it is palpable in the expressive heart of the work, the slow movement in A minor. Though no genuine Irish tune is quoted, Harty’s material throughout the movement is infused with a persistent flattened seventh (of the relative major, C)—a feature of Irish folk music—which pervades both the melody and the harmony. Harty had already demonstrated a fondness for elaborate melodic decoration in his ‘Irish’ Symphony, a work which won the Feis symphony prize in 1904, but here it is even more abundantly apparent in the use of mordents, rapid scales and modal inflection. Morever, in this context, Harty makes fertile use of the ‘double tonic’ phenomenon as the lengthy thematic material switches tantalizingly back and forth between A minor and C major. Concluding in C major, the first subject utilizes the flattened seventh enharmonically (the B flat being written as A sharp) enabling, through an augmented sixth, a deft modulation to E major for the second subject. This second subject, even more so than the first, is extensively self-developing, in the manner of Tchaikovsky’s sweeping thematic paragraphs. Introduced by the viola, it is initially presented against a background of countermelody at which Harty excelled, but at its grand, extrovert reprise—the use of a heroic 6–4 chord, the scoring for strings in multiple octaves, and the intensity of the triplet accompaniment—it is even more reminiscent of the Russian.

In the last movement of the Quintet, Harty’s predilection for Russian music is confirmed in the lively second subject (which he must have unconsciously gleaned from Tchaikovsky’s first Piano Concerto) and in the highly unconventional episode in B flat minor that forms the centrepiece of the development; both ideas give the finale a burlesque character that is even more accentuated in the impetuous coda. This propensity for the exotic, as well as for vibrant instrumental colour, would feature time and again in Harty’s later work, and would also affirm his fascination for other late nineteenth-century Russians, such as Musorgsky, Lyapunov, Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov, who featured in his programmes as a conductor.

Jeremy Dibble © 2012

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