Harty: An Irish Symphony (CD review)

Also, With the Wild Geese; In Ireland. Proinnsias O'Duinn, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. Naxos 8.554732.

How could this 2001 album of Irish orchestral music miss when it features three of the most-popular works of one of Ireland's most-celebrated composers, Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941), done up by one of Ireland's most-accomplished orchestras, the National Symphony of Ireland, and lead by an Irish conductor with the name of Proinnsias O'Duinn? Add in good Naxos sound and a reasonable price and you have the well-known definition of a bargain on your hands.

All the works on the disc are pretty much tone poems, evocations of Irish life in both war and play. The leadoff selection is the eighteen-minute piece "With the Wild Geese" (1910), a varied and moody work depicting an Irish regiment of soldiers fighting with the French in 1745. The second, shorter, piece, "In Ireland" (1918, orchestrated in 1935), describes city life in Dublin. Finally, An Irish Symphony (1904) arrives in four movements, with the suggestive names "On the Shores of Lough Neagh," "The Fair-Day," "In the Antrim Hills," and "The Twelfth Night." It's the quick, second-movement scherzo that is probably most familiar, quoting as it does several popular Irish melodies.

Proinnsias O'Duinn
In fact, all the music is reminiscent of a hundred Irish folk tunes you've probably heard over the years, none of them particularly memorable but all of them contributing to the music's overall entertainment value. This is not classical music of the highest or most-noble bent, just pleasant, sometimes nostalgic, often relaxing, occasionally cheering, and ultimately rewarding music.

O'Duinn directs the music at a comfortable pace, never forcing its nostalgic or sentimental characteristics on the listener and nicely clarifying the big tunes. The National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland plays with an equally easy grace, although they don't sound quite as lush or luxuriant as the best London orchestras. Still, everyone is more than up to the job.

The Naxos sound is up to the task, too, with good dynamics, a reasonably wide frequency response except perhaps in the very lowest registers, and a fine degree of sparkle. This means it is sound that fits the music, and it's hard not to like it.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:





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Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa