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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
String Quartet No. 1 in D minor (1897)
(Allegro [8:02]; Molto Allegro [4:32]; Andante Moderato [4:42]; Finale: Vivace [5:09])
The Holy Boy (arr. 1941) [3:16]
String Quartet No. 2 in C minor (1898)
(Allegro Moderato [9:11]; Nocturne: Andante [7:28]; Scherzo: Presto [4:58]; Pocol Allegro – Vivace [10:04])
Maggini Quartet (Laurence Jackson (violin); David Angel (violin); Martin Outram (viola); Michael Kaznowski (cello))
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 21-23 January 2004
NAXOS 8.557777 [57:22]

Another English music gem from Naxos, including Ireland’s two strings quartets and a quartet version of his famous Holy Boy. The string quartets are both early works, written while Ireland was studying at the Royal College of Music. The first quartet was composed in 1897 as an attempt to impress Stanford, whom Ireland regarded very highly and wanted as a teacher. Although Stanford apparently dismissed the work as “dull as ditchwater, m’ bhoy”, he nonetheless arranged a performance of it by the students, and Parry, then the Director of the College, commended it. Ireland wrote the second quartet six months later, and, in the end, achieved his great desire, and was given a four-year scholarship to study with Stanford. Although Ireland’s own voice has not yet emerged in these works, and they show the influence of other composers, such as Brahms, they are well-written, assured and delightful pieces.
Ireland’s only other work for string quartet is an arrangement (one of a number, for different combinations of instruments) he made in 1941 of the third of his Four Preludes for piano, the Holy Boy.
The Maggini Quartet’s performances on this disc cannot be faulted – the playing is beautifully lyrical, expressive and sensitive. They work together brilliantly as an ensemble, and, importantly, allow the music to breathe, never hurrying, but taking the works at a relaxed – but never sluggish – pace; listen to their gorgeously romantic and evocative version of the Holy Boy. They capture the nuances and various moods of the music well, from delicate and gossamer through to robust and vigorous, in boldly confident playing. Hear the first movement of the second string quartet, for example.
Charming works and radiant performances. A must.
Em Marshall

see also review by Michael Cookson

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