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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
These Things Shall Be * for baritone solo, chorus and orchestra (1937) [19:44]
Piano Concerto + (1930) [24:45]
Legend for Piano and Orchestra + (1933) [12:43]
Overture: Satyricon (1946) [8:43]
Two Symphonic Studies (Fugue and Toccata) arr. Geoffrey Bush in 1969 from material composed by Ireland for, but unused in, the film The Overlanders [11:13]
John Carol Case (baritone) *
London Philharmonic Choir *
Eric Parkin (piano) +
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult
LYRITA SRCD.241 [77:13]

 


I think record collectors might agree that there are one or two jewels in their collection that they return to again and again. In the late 1960s I bought the Lyrita LP, SRCS36 with These Things Shall Be one side and the Ireland Piano Concerto on the other. The rest of the programme listed above has been added to make up the 77 minutes average CD playing time. I have just about worn the LP out with repeated playing. I well remember listening to the glorious middle section of These Things Shall Be in the record department of Harrods, London’s premier department store and being bowled over, so much so that I immediately purchased a copy. It was the first time I had heard anything by John Ireland; and it was the beginning of a life-long love affair with his music.

 

But to proceed with the review. I was gratified to note that the booklet cover for this new CD, displays large, ‘Boult conducts Ireland’ because Sir Adrian had a special affinity and sympathy for the sound-world of John Ireland whose music, often influenced by the music of Debussy and, especially, Ravel, glorifies the English landscape and the myths and legends of its antiquity. Sir Adrian knew so many English composers whose music he played such as Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Bax.

 

Sir Adrian thought highly of John Ireland’s These Things Shall Be, the composer’s only large-scale choral work, a setting of John Addington Symonds’ (1840-93) utopian view of an ideal world where “… A loftier race, Than ’ere the world hath known, shall rise, With flame of freedom in their souls, And light of science in their eyes …” In this work, Ireland eschewed his normal pessimistic outlook to create stirring celebratory music. There’s a most affecting central section that has a glorious tune that surely Elgar would have been proud to pen, with John Carol Case’s noble gravitas proclaiming ‘Nation with Nation, land with land, Inarmed shall live as comrades free …’. The London Philharmonic Choir echo the sentiments, thrillingly climaxing at ‘New arts shall bloom of loftier mould … When all the earth is paradise’. However Ireland cannot resist a sour brass rasp after this ideal vision – perhaps he could not resist a moment of doubt? 

Legend for Piano and Orchestra was inspired by a stretch of the English countryside, remote still today, high up on the South Downs between Storrington and Angmering West Sussex. It had two inspirations. Firstly there are stories of the infinitely sad plight of doomed lepers, living there, outcasts from a hostile and apprehensive society and only able to participate in the isolated church’s services by peering through narrow openings in its outside walls. Secondly, a ghostly apparition seen by Ireland, himself, while picnicking in the area when his peace was interrupted by the sight of some children in antique clothing dancing in a ring close by, then vanishing after the composer glanced away for just a second. In the outer sections of the work Boult creates a dark, dread atmosphere - listen for Boult’s hissing brass at around 4:50 suggesting villagers ostracising the lepers - but also implicit is an aura of sympathy for the plight of the lepers. Conversely, in the middle section, Sir Adrian’s and Eric Parkin’s light and delicate treatment delightfully suggests childish play and innocence against a spectral background. 

Eric Parkin is also the soloist in John Ireland Piano Concerto. Parkin, who studied with the composer, has said of Ireland "There were certain things that he was absolutely in no doubt about: he never liked his music to be hurried, he wanted it to go at such a pace that every chord could be heard - he was very sensitive to chordal movement - he hated rushing.” Both Legend and the Piano Concerto were written in 1930 for his pupil and protégée, the young pianist Helen Perkin. The Concerto is remarkably similar to Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto, uncompleted at the time of the Ireland Concerto’s premiere. John Ireland’s Piano Concerto is influenced by Ravel and Prokofiev - notably that composer’s Third Piano Concerto. The Ireland Concerto’s trumpets use fibre dance-band mutes. There is a certain popular jazzy appeal to the music. The Concerto was immediately successful and it was often performed by many British and international soloists over the following forty years.

 

Boult enjoys the energy, mystery and impish fun of the colourful orchestral writing of the outer movements, as well as the lyricism, but it is Parkin’s and Boult’s delicacy in slowly unravelling the beauty of the ethereal Lento that lingers in the mind.

These performances of Legend and the Piano Concerto have transferred well to CD and they must rank before Eric Parkin’s later recordings for Chandos (CHAN 8461) with Bryden Thomson and the London Philharmonic Orchestra as much as I still admire them. 

Ireland classified Satyricon as a comedy overture. It was inspired by the book of the same name by Rome’s Petronius Arbiter who accompanied Nero in his licentious pleasures. Boult’s earthy reading suggests such revels but who could resist the meltingly beautiful melody that is the middle section with its lovely clarinet solo. Geoffrey Bush whose programme notes distinguish this release, arranged some unused music that Ireland wrote for the film The Overlanders calling the result Two symphonic studies: a Fugue and a Toccata. Bush reckoned the work to be ‘a worthy successor to Mai-Dun and Ireland’s overtures. The Fugue is relentlessly dark and threatening, the wild Toccata redolent of vicious combat.

Pretty well peerless performances of key John Ireland works. For me, this CD not only qualifies as a Recording of the Month but it has to figure in my best recordings of 2007 list.

Ian Lace 

See also Review by Rob Barnett


 


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