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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Vexilla Regis: Hymn for Passion Sunday (1898) [11.54]
Greater Love Hath No Man (1912, orch. 1924) [6.51]
These Thing Shall Be (1937) [22.12]
A London Overture (1936) [13.26]
The Holy Boy: A Carol of the Nativity () [2.40]
Epic March (1940) [9.13]
Paula Bott (sop)
Teresa Shaw (alto)
James Oxley (ten)
Bryn Terfel (bass-bar)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
rec. 24-26 Apr 1990, St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead, London
CHANDOS CLASSICS CHAN X10110 [67.11]


If you look at the CD catalogue I wonder if anyone has done more for British music in such a short time. Go back to his first LP made for RCA circa 1978 with the Hickox Singers and presenting Rubbra's masses including the Cantuarensis and two carols. There were then more than a few discs for EMI and a veritable cataract from Chandos. In terms of number of discs issued over a short period he surely outstrips in productivity Boult, Del Mar, Groves and Handley. He was in the right place at the right time and that certainly shows especially where, as here, the music plays to his strengths.

John Ireland is best known for his piano solos which have been well served by Chandos and before them by Lyrita. Both companies also explored the chamber music and orchestral music. This disc was part of the Hickox contribution to the latter. It mixes choral works with purely orchestral pieces and complements the Bryden Thomson disc of Ireland's Piano Concerto, Legend and Mai Dun.

Here three choral-orchestral scores meet three purely orchestral pieces. In this company These Things Shall Be stands very high indeed. The Holy Boy is gentle though I think it might have been done even more sensitively. The overture and the march are fun in their raucous splendour.

The first two pieces have a gaunt scorching choral blast and a big surging choral sound. Thee music carries the mark of Elgar and to a lesser extent Stanford. The lambent high notes at the end of Greater Love reach towards the These things shall be. Speaking of which the orchestral playing aptly crackles with aggression. The subtle choral writing is balm-filled as well as radiating a blazing intensity. Subtlety can be heard in the modestly intoned Internationale. There are times in listening to this piece where the hairs raise on the nape of your neck. And this happens despite our fatigued ideals, the knowing snigger and our weary spin-spun world. The women's voices are utterly magical on the words ‘transcending all we gaze upon’ (20.37). They are as high and as gleamingly golden as anything in Hadley's The Trees So High. Bryn Terfel now elevated to the exalted order of the cross-over album is in sturdy voice though the incipient vibrato is in bud.

The Epic March which shares some of the rasp and grip of These Things lacks the brash thrust of the Boult version on an old Lyrita LP. It could have gone with yet more zest although I do not see anyone topping Hickox's brass in their imperious arrogance; just what the doctor ordered for the early 1940s! There is no hint here of Arthur Machen or the pre-Roman gods and the subtle magic he invoked in Sarnia, Mai Dun, Legend and The Forgotten Rite. This is more a case of Walton (the two coronation marches), Ferguson (Overture for an Occasion) and Elgar P&C4. The London Overture is done with crackling Elgarian bustle and is raucously Baxian. It would go well with Cockaigne and with Arthur Butterworth’s splendid march Mancunians.

The notes are in the safe hands of Lewis Foreman. Full texts are printed in the booklet with translations into French and German.

In the frankly glorious These Things Shall Be we meet the grand and idealistic John Ireland. The snappily ceremonial public face is to be found here alongside some superb choral singing.

Rob Barnett

 



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