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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Sonata No. 1 in D minor for violin and piano (1908-1909): Allegro leggiadro [12.51]; Romance – in tempo sostenuto, quasi adagio [10.42]; Rondo – allegro sciolto assai [6.52]
Trio No. 2 in E for violin, cello and piano (1917) [14.46]
Sonata for cello and piano in G minor (1923): Moderato e sostenuto [9.09]; Poco largamente [6.38]; Con moto e marcato [4.56]
The Holy Boy (1913, arr. 1919) [2.49]
Daniel Hope (violin), Julian Lloyd Webber (cello), John McCabe (piano) DDD
ASV GOLD GLD 4009 [69.23]


One of the plethora of British composers who wrote such exquisite and moving music in the early-mid twentieth century, Ireland is, like most of them, unjustly neglected. As the works on this recent disc from ASV show, his compositions were full of character, innovation and beauty. Julian Lloyd Webber and John McCabe are familiar champions of English music on the ASV label, with two volumes of British cello music out (both discs that I highly recommend). Here, they are joined by Daniel Hope in four Ireland chamber works, including a setting of the famous carol The Holy Boy.

Ireland’s first sonata, in D minor, for violin and piano won the first prize in the legendary Cobbett competition in 1909. It opens with a passionate, lyrical, expansive and wistful first movement that, despite obvious French and German influences still has a very English sound. The aptly titled "Romance" is gentle and tender, and the final Rondo is a gorgeously lively, bubbling, lilting movement that effervesces with unsuppressed energy and good cheer. With a great piano part, the Rondo is wonderfully good fun for both instruments and provides a strong finish to an amazing work - as is brought out brilliantly by Hope’s performance. Although Hope’s playing comes across as just slightly distanced and detached, he creates a beautiful sound and his interpretation of this work cannot be criticised. The piano is a little muffled and far less closely miked than the violin, which leads to some imbalance, possibly at the expense of richness and resonance.

The Trio No. 2 is thought to be strongly influenced by the First World War, and one can certainly hear the heart-felt bitterness, despair and loss in the opening poco lento section. A march-like episode in the middle of the work is said to represent British troops emerging from the trenches to fight the Germans. This leads to a beautifully rich lyrical section, and the work ends with the march-like episode again. This a perfectly characterised performance of a rather aggressive and defiant, yet at the same time, deeply poignant piece.

The sonata for cello and piano in G minor is undoubtedly the highlight of the disc for me. The first movement is melancholic, restless and brooding, while the heart-breakingly beautiful second movement, poco largamente is gentle and lyrical, with stunning chromatic inflexions and harmonies. The work concludes in a rumbustious dissonant and lively movement with a radiant ending. An intense, passionate and sensitive Julian Lloyd Webber gives a magical performance of this work with intelligent, thoughtful and reflective playing and perfect intonation.

The disc ends with one of the very many arrangements of the Holy Boy, this one by the composer himself, for cello and piano. Needless to say, it is beautifully played.

This disc has some pretty formidable competition. All four works are available on a Chandos disc with Karine Georgian, Ian Brown and Lydia Mordkovitch. The cello sonata can also be found on the Marco Polo label with Raphael Wallfisch and John York, and the violin sonata appears on Hyperion with Paul Barritt and Catherine Edwards, as well as with Frederick Grinke and the composer himself on the Historic Epoch label. Whilst I would advise getting hold of a copy of the Grinke and Ireland’s own recording as something of a definitive version of the violin sonata, I would recommend this disc over and above the Chandos, Hyperion and Marco Polo versions. One simply can’t get much better than the performers here, all of whom are well-known for their dedication to English music and consummate musicianship.

Em Marshall

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

John Ireland Trust pages



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