John Ireland (1879-1962) is one of those composers who, whilst I admire his talents, I have struggled to appreciate, and don't know exactly why. When a young man, one of my friends played Ireland to death and waxed lyrically about him. My piano teacher also did not appreciate him. I hoped that, over time, I might appreciate Ireland's talents more. The one work of his I do quite like is the Piano Concerto, so I thought I would review this disc with an open mind in the hope I may find a greater liking.
The first work here is an overture entitled Satyricon (1946). Ireland was well read and the tales appealed to him. This work is sparkling with good humour and moments of quiet reflection and lyricism. Some of the motives remind me very much of Cyril Scott, and in particular, the Oboe Concerto, also written the same year. I had not heard this Ireland overture before, but it was enjoyable, as was the performance. The sound was sumptuous and clear, with the right amount of reverberation and ambience, and the performance was compelling.
Listen — John Ireland: Satyricon
(CHSA 5293 track 1, 4:37-5:24) ℗ 2022 Chandos Records Ltd :
The next four tracks are taken up with A Downland Suite, comprising a prelude, elegy, minuet and rondo. This was originally written as a brass band piece in 1932, and the composer later orchestrated two of the movements in 1939 and 1941. The John Ireland Trust commissioned Geoffrey Bush - one of Ireland's students - to orchestrate the remaining two. The opening prelude contains a resolute opening theme, later contrasted by a more relaxed and lilting theme.
The second movement, 'Elegy', is slow and heartfelt. I feel that this movement looks back to earlier in the composer's life, with some regret.
This is followed by a charming minuet. The programme note writer likens the theme to 'Lavender Blue'. This is certainly the case, and the movement is quite charming and genteel.
The final Rondo rounds off the work nicely, and at least in my ears, reminds me of a lot of the English, and some of the Scandinavian string music that was popular around that time.
Listen — John Ireland: Rondo (A Downland Suite)
(CHSA 5293 track 5, 2:20-2:56) ℗ 2022 Chandos Records Ltd :
Mai-Dun is inspired by a famous old hill fort in Dorset. This fort had a long history of about 6,000 years and was finally abandoned by the Celts after being conquered during the Claudian Invasion of England in AD 43. This tone poem (or symphonic rhapsody, as the composer called it) is an evocative work, at times imposing, and at others, beautifully lyrical. It demonstrates the composer's considerable skill as an orchestrator. I had not heard this work before and am very pleased that I did.
Listen — John Ireland: Mai-Dun
(CHSA 5293 track 6, 7:41-8:29) ℗ 2022 Chandos Records Ltd :
The Forgotten Rite, written around 1917, was inspired by the legends of the Channel Islands and the writings of Arthur Machen (1863-1947), a writer of mystical, supernatural and horror novels. Again, Ireland's considerable skill as an orchestrator comes to the fore, and it is obvious that one of his influences is also French impressionist music. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this work.
Listen — John Ireland: The Forgotten Rite
(CHSA 5293 track 7, 4:31-5:27) ℗ 2022 Chandos Records Ltd :
A London Overture (1936), which grew out of the earlier 'A Comedy Overture', is Ireland's orchestral work I know best, and it was a popular concert favourite in my youth. It receives a great performance on this disc (as does all the music) and I have to say that I was charmed once again.
The Holy Boy is a nativity hymn which Ireland had originally written down in 1913, and, over the years, he made quite a number of arrangements of it. This one, scored for string orchestra, dates from 1941. It is simple, touching and a lovely little piece.
The disc's last work, Epic March, was written to raise the spirits of a war embattled English public, and received it's first performance in 1942. This is another work that I was familiar with. It is bold, with a lyrical middle section, and there are shades of both Holst and Elgar here. I am sure that it was well beloved by the audiences of the time.
Listen — John Ireland: Epic March
(CHSA 5293 track 10, 3:56-4:36) ℗ 2022 Chandos Records Ltd :
This disc has made me realise how much I have underestimated this composer. John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London have really made these works sparkle, and as such, I have no hesitation in recommending this marvellous Chandos recording.
Copyright © 26 June 2022