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.


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

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa