It’s really a bit of a mystery why Ireland’s Piano
Concerto isn’t more firmly established in the repertoire. It’s a great
audience piece, full of fine melodies, attractive orchestration, and
highly effective writing for the soloist. It is not staggeringly difficult,
either, as compared to many of the big concertos. This terrific CD,
originally issued by Chandos in 1986 and now happily returning to the
catalogue, should help to introduce a new audience to this masterpiece,
as well as to the two other fine Ireland works which accompany it.
The soloist in the concerto and the Legend is
none other than Eric Parkin, whom Ireland enthusiasts will know as the
performer on the Chandos edition of the complete piano music (and previously
on many Lyrita LPs. Ed.). Parkin knew Ireland personally, and his playing
has an effortlessly authentic feeling to it. He can turn on the bravura
with confidence when necessary, but his sensitivity to the poetry is
very special. A good example of this is the entry of the piano in the
slow movement (track2), where Parkin’s tone and phrasing of the music
is magical – passionate yet intimate and ‘inward’. As the late Christopher
Palmer’s outstanding booklet note points out, the concerto is, surprisingly
perhaps, very close to the Ravel of the G major Concerto (written two
years later), and there are even traces of jazz influence here and there.
The Legend for piano and orchestra – Ireland’s
next major work after the concerto - is a highly atmospheric piece,
inspired by Harrow Hill on the Sussex Downs. It has moody, enigmatic
main sections, with dance-like contrasting music, and the performance
brings out superbly the subtle colours of the piece. A powerful sense
of place is an important element in Ireland’s music, and the
rhapsody Mai-Dun – Thomas Hardy’s name for what is generally
known as Maiden Castle – is another atmospheric piece, but of a character
quite different from Legend. It attempts to evoke the ancient
history of the site, and, in Julian Herbage’s apt phrase quoted in the
booklet the ‘strenuous life and struggles of a primitive community’.
The orchestration is vividly craggy, yet full of expressive lyrical
solos for the wind instruments.
Throughout all these pieces, the playing of the LPO
is of the highest quality, and the late lamented Bryden Thomson demonstrates
clearly that he shared Eric Parkin’s deep commitment to this music.
I recommend this outstanding recording with enthusiasm, and it would
make an unbeatable introduction to Ireland’s music for anyone wishing
to take the plunge; it’s well worth it!
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