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
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
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.
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.
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.
See also Review
by Rob Barnett