> IRELAND Piano Concerto Parkin [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Piano Concerto (1930)
Legend for piano and orchestra (1933)
Mai-Dun, symphonic rhapsody(1921)
Eric Parkin, piano
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
Recorded All Saints’ Church, Tooting, London, December 1985
CHANDOS CHAN 8461 [52:51]


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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!

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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