To many of us growing up in the later days of 78 rpm recordings the name Harty was associated with the hyphen separating him from Handel, as in the Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music by Handel-Harty. Listening to them again after many moons, well, what joy! The irrepressible good spirits of old Side 2 of the Fireworks amount to a veritable Mood Elevator. Psychiatrists prescribing for depression need look no further. Harty, who was Ireland’s gift to the podium, had a style as easy and natural and guffawing as the prose of Dickens. Bernard Shore, writing in his wonderful The Orchestra Speaks, tells us that “electricity he seems to be able to generate at will. One moment his sense of repose will fine everything down to the utmost tranquility; then in a flash he can change the scene to one of wild orgy.”

We can skip from that, no beat missed, to Harty’s 1933 London Philharmonic recording of the Romeo Alone and Fete at the Capulets from Berlioz’ Romeo and Juliet, a performance in which elegance surely turns to Abandon, or his 1928 Schubert C Major Symphony with the Hallé Orchestra (the Manchester ensemble he led for many years), a performance charged with emotion, wit and atmosphere. The best one can say about these performances is that they sound “live.” How some of the oldtime conductors leapt fearlessly over side breaks as if stopping dead at measure 212 or 417 were the most natural thing in the world!

Chapter and verse in the Schubert: the opening theme comes on stage crisp and almost feisty, then Harty gives us a jaunty, muscular second eight bars. Tension builds as Schubert’s introduction proceeds with increasing insistence, then brakes are strenuously applied as if the intro were holding on for dear life before being sucked belly-achingly into a husky allegro ma non troppo in which the brass in due course like quick-motion stagehands erect vibrant walls of sound. The second theme sounds cynical, the music caught in a near-tragical trot, and when it returns in the recapitulation it stumbles on in a quirky little rubato as if too many pints of ale had been downed in an East End pub. But there’s a parade ground finish to movement 1, the music decked out in a jaunty double ritenuto making no doubt whatsoever of Schubert’s ben marcato. And with the timpani triplets delightfully FRONT-AND-CENTER — drill sergeant or armchair Schubertian, who could resist ‘em?

The andante con moto in Harty mode begins somewhat more slowly than that, breadth promoting richness as well as a touching sadness. With gravity, though, there’s a certain propulsion. Meanwhile Harty is not far from the celebrated Furtwaengler in the dreaminess of the horn/string antiphony he conjures several minutes into this movement, a movement that can seem endless only that is surely not the case in such hands as these. Next a perky scherzo with a ballroom sweep. The finale is on the broad side to match Harty’s first movement allegro ma non troppo. Much to be cherished are the unusually vivid bass arpeggios under the winds’ repeated notes in those second subject sequences.

More credits: the Khovanchina prelude of Moussorgsky (with the Hallé, 6-24-29), an irrepressibly un-starchy performance in which a playful birdsong element not generally caught in this music is prominent, and a Dvorak New World Symphony (5-2-27) in which a village festival flavor, nicely leggiero, cannot be missed in the opening movement. And the clarinet solo in the finale’s second subject absolutely takes flight. Note as well the lusty buzz in the trombones that we associate with Dr. Mengelberg’s old Concertgebouw. Harty the schoolboy of the Hallé at work! Now that clarinet solo, here’s a tip how it was produced. Shore has a vignette of Harty telling Camden the famous bassoonist, “Archie, I want you to play this [the music isn’t specified] with complete freedom, yet it must not upset the rhythmic figures in the accompaniment too much. Just play it with me by yourself, and I will show you what I mean . . . Yes, that’s very good, but I think it would be still better if you stayed on your top F just a little longer, and then hurried the next passage slightly. I can keep the accompaniment going better . . . Archie, just one more thing before we leave it, can you take breath after the C sharp instead of in the bar before? . . . Good, I won’t try it again now, it will be all right.”

Harty began his career as a pianist, soloist and accompanist both, and when he took to conducting his Harty Boys he was celebrated for his sensitive attunement to the needs of keyboard guests on his platform. The partnership that produced in late ’29 and early ’30 a recording of the Tchaikovsky First Concerto with the famous Solomon at the keyboard is of benchmark status. It’s all wonderful, pianistically and orchestrally, but I would point you in particular to the slow movement which has a musing quality, an ecstatic Botticelli beauty. Doubtless Harty was remembering his pianistic days. Here’s Shore again: “As a pianist Harty was renowned for his delicacy of touch as much for its brilliance.”

Now to that rosy pillar of British music, Elgar’s Enigma Variations. I researched a comparison with Sir Henry Wood who also recorded these gems in the Thirties, but it’s almost a case of Worcester oranges and Malvern apples, if there are such animals. These variations almost play themselves, the characters they represent are such fabulous personalities. One conductor will be a bit lighter here, a bit heavier there, but galloping is galloping and delicate delicate (well mostly!) when the subjects are so adjective-marked as Sir Edward’s. Suffice to say Sir Hamilton slightly outdoes Sir Henry in the hymn-like soar of the pivotal Nimrod and the madcap element of the Dorabella intermezzo that follows has never been more explicit than under his wing.

. . .  And Sir Henry’s jollier, less wistful limning of the great Romanze titled with three playful asterisks instead of the usual initials –Elgar is leading a sort of human easter egg hunt at this point — is especially appealing.

Like Philippe Gaubert, Hamilton Harty died rather young and I’m sure if he’d lived into the 1950s he would have recorded some of the big Berlioz choral stuff, maybe even in stereo. And yes of course, a long-playing remake of his hyphenated Handel.