John IRELAND (1879-1962) The Songs
see end of review for details
Benjamin Luxon (baritone),
John Mitchinson (tenor),
Alfreda Hodgson (contralto)
Alan Rowlands (piano)
rec. August 1972, July 1973, November 1973 (CD1-2); August 1978 (CD3), St John’s,
Smith Square, London. ADD LYRITA
SRCD.2261 [3 CDs: 61:26 + 58:08 + 64:10]
the years Lyrita has proved a leading player on the British
music scene, not least for keeping alive the flames of composers
who might otherwise be neglected. Having recently issued
a collection of the chamber music, this 3 CD set of the songs
has arrived, and Eric Parkin’s first recordings of the
piano music have also just been released.
plastic case containing the discs is substantial rather than
slim-line, but with good reason, since there are two booklets,
one with splendid notes by two authoritative writers, Geoffrey
Bush and William Mann, the other with the complete texts,
clearly printed though in understandable tiny print. The
organisation of this material could not be more clear, which
is an important consideration in a collection such as this.
recordings are some thirty years old now but they reflect
the high technical standards Lyrita became renowned for in
the LP era, standards which are strongly reflected in this
new CD issue. The artists too are of the highest calibre
and are noted exponents in this field. For example, the pianist
Alan Rowlands may not be a household name nowadays, but he
also recorded Ireland’s complete piano music for Lyrita,
and these performances await issue next year. At any rate
he proves an idiomatic and sensitive accompanist to his singers,
always capturing the nature of the song and allowing the
phrasing to articulate the style and meaning.
one and two feature that fine singer Benjamin Luxon, recorded
at the height of his considerable powers. Disc three combines
the tenor and contralto songs, with John Mitchinson and Alfreda
Hodgson. A lost opportunity in this otherwise comprehensive
set concerns Ireland’s most famous song, Sea Fever.
This was originally written for a tenor but subsequently
became associated with the baritone voice, as featured here.
In a collection so complete it would have been interesting
to hear the tenor version also. Luxon responds sensitively
to the song, but the personality of his performance does
not erase thoughts of the marvellous recording by Bryn Terfel
with Malcolm Martineau (DG 445 946 2).
so many songs composed over a period of some thirty years,
it is not surprising that they range widely in approach and
even in style. Some are in a direct ballad style, such as Sea
Fever and When Lights Go Rolling Round the Sky.
And anyone who has heard Stanford’s marvellous Songs of
the Sea will respond in enthusiastic vein to Ireland’s Hope
the Hornblower, also using words by Henry Newbolt.
common with so many of his contemporaries, Ireland reacted
creatively to the poetry of A.E. Housman. An unusual feature
of the sensitively drawn cycle We'll to the Woods No More is
that it closes with an impressive piano solo, a purely instrumental
postlude summing up its nature. However, the booklet of words
(see p.6) does not make this entirely clear. Alan Rowlands
captures the mood to perfection, though the recorded sound
is accurate rather than atmospheric.
various song-cycles are always worth hearing as Ireland intended
them, even if some of the songs have achieved a separate
and independent life. Songs Sacred and Profane is
a case in point, since of its content the ever-popular The
Salley Gardens (W.B. Yeats) has become independently
known, whereas the effect made is all the greater when the
song is heard in its appropriate context. It is a strength
of these Luxon and Rowlands performances that they always
convey this sense of unity when approaching collections of
songs intended to be cycles. And for all his reputation as
a ballad singer, Luxon brings much sensitivity to his control
of dynamics. A fine example of this is the Rossetti setting, During
Music, when the vocal tone seems absolutely perfect:
sensitive at the one extreme, commanding at the other.
poetic nature inclines him towards the refined role of miniaturist,
even if he did respond brilliantly to the challenge of larger
forms. A glimpse of the latter can be seen in the outgoing
nature of the recruiting song The Soldier’s Return,
which recalls the manner of Arthur Somervell’s Shropshire
Lad song, The Street Sounds to the Soldiers’ Tread.
And of course this style suits Luxon admirably.
evidence of the composer’s artistic range comes in the choice
of verses from the Elizabethan era, territory we might more
readily associate with Ivor Gurney or Peter Warlock. Another
of the famous songs is, like Sea Fever, a Masefield
setting. The Bells of San Marie is done in the manner
of a ballad, with the style reinforced by the performance – and
why not? At the other extreme comes Christina Rossetti's When
I am Dead My Dearest, a song whose inwardness and submissiveness
is palpable, offering a completely different challenge to
performers and listeners alike.
theme of the recent Festival of English Song at Ludlow (June
2007) was the ‘Celtic Twilight’, of which phenomenon there
is no better example than The Joyce Book, which gathered
songs by various composers collected in a publication made
in the 1930s. The other composers included Ernest Moeran
and Arnold Bax, as we might expect, but Ireland’s contribution
proved to be one of his most successful songs: Tutto e
sciolto. Luxon and Rowlands prove strong advocates.
the songs for tenor John Mitchinson has a mixed success.
Not always associated with lieder and song rather than the
larger forms, his voice is generally appealing but sometimes
without the sensitivity of tone that the style ideally demands.
That said, the Housman songs collected under the title The
Land of Lost Content are among the best Ireland ever
wrote, and Mitchinson is excellent in the faster numbers
such as Goal and Wicket and The encounter,
while always sensitive to meaning elsewhere.
Hodgson was a leading artist and proves herself well suited
to this repertoire. There is more Rossetti with the cycle Mother
and Child, which in this performance proves a highlight
among highlights, featuring the most sensitive attention
to word painting and phrasing. Like Benjamin Britten and
Gerald Finzi, Ireland responded creatively to the poetry
of Thomas Hardy. When listening to Ireland’s Three Poems,
the memory of Finzi is not effaced (how could it be?), but
even in settings as strongly characterised as these alternative
responses to Summer Schemes, Hodgson’s performance
brings out Ireland’s musical personality most distinctively.
repertory of English song is one of the richest aspects of
our musical life, and one of the most neglected. It is a
kind of music in which the artistry of the performers makes
an enormous difference, and in which the art of communication
can be at its most direct and powerful. While there are other
recorded performances (those on Hyperion) which are of the
highest quality, those collected here by Lyrita make a significant
contribution to the catalogue of English music.
Track listing CD1 Songs for baritone
Songs of a Wayfarer [12:10] (When Lights go rolling round the sky, Hope the Hornblower,
Marigold - Impression for voice and piano [13:05]
Five Poems by Thomas Hardy [11:21] (Love and Friendship, Friendship in Misfortune,
The One Hope, We'll to the Woods no more, Spring will not wait) CD2 Songs for baritone
Songs Sacred and Profane [13:33]
Five XVIth Century Songs [9:59]
Blow out you Bugles
If there were Dreams to sell
I have twelve Oxen
The Bells of San Marie
The merry month of May
When I am dead my dearest
Santa Chiara - Palm Sunday
If we must part
Tutto e sciolto CD3 Songs for tenor
The Heart's desire
The sacred flame
The East Riding
Love is a sickness full of woes
The Land of Lost Content [11:11]
My true love hath my Heart Songs for Contralto
The three Ravens
Bed in Summer
Mother and Child [9:00]
Earth's Call, A Sylvan Rhapsody
Three Arthur Symons Songs [7:06]
What art thou thinking of?
Three Thomas Hardy Songs [6:48]
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John Quinn Seen & Heard Editor Emeritus Bill Kenny Editor in Chief
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