A Comedy Overture
Fantasy Scenes (from an Eastern Romance)
Piano Concerto in B minor
Peter Donohoe (piano)
Recorded 21 & 22 February 2005 in the Ulster Hall, Belfast
Reviewed by: Michael Quinn
Reviewed: March 2006
CD No: NAXOS 8.557731
Duration: 55 minutes
Peter Donohoe’s survey of British Piano Concertos for Naxos continues with one of the strongest performances yet in the five-year series.
This is only the second recording of Hamilton Harty’s 1922 B minor concerto and its most immediate difference to Malcolm Binns’s 23-year-old account for Chandos in the same Ulster Hall venue with the same orchestra (conducted by Bryden Thomson) is its pace, Donohoe clocking in a full seven-and-a-half minutes before Binns reaches his final bar.
Which is not to say that Donohoe’s superbly nuanced reading is rushed. A touch breathless in places, perhaps, but necessarily so and none the worse for that. The crucial difference is one of approach, Donohoe taking Harty’s cod-Romantic roller-coaster at face value, motoring through its unabashed intermingling of Rachmaninov, Chopin and Irish folk-music with a winning élan and displaying enough melodic polish and driving energy along the way to make even the most grandiloquent musical statements here immediately endearing.
The more-brightly recorded Binns chooses instead to pause and dwell throughout as if mesmerised by the sirenic melancholia that underpins this comparatively lightweight but altogether beguiling work. And, in doing so, he excavates and accentuates a strain of Britishness in the music that grounds it in a specificity that eludes even the insightful Donohoe. Each complements the other and both provide eloquent support for an unduly neglected work.
Overlooked, too, has been the colourful quartet of Fantasy Scenes (from an Eastern Romance) of 1919. Absent from the Ulster Orchestra’s earlier Harty survey on Chandos, this score appears here to great effect, the orchestra clearly relishing the multiple opportunities the pieces afford for vibrant strokes of colour, surges of rhythmic vitality and some ear-catching solo sequences: take a bow the brass, woodwinds and strings. You’ll hear Rimsky’s Scheherazade here in the lustrous ‘Arabian Nights’ exotica of Harty’s evocative scoring, but a telling touch of Mahler in the detail, too, to leaven and ground.
The more-familiar A Comedy Overture does what it should in a sprightly, effervescent reading full of vim under Takuo Yuasa and his Belfast-based players that serves as an engaging opener for a disc characterised by excellence throughout.