I assume that this is the last of the three discs that John Lenehan
and Naxos are devoting to the piano works of John Ireland. I must
say that I am disappointed that it does not seem to be a complete
cycle. Three works from the canon appear to be missing
from this edition – the Three Dances, Indian Summer
and the Sea Idyll. I guess that there is an excuse for
Indian Summer as it is not part of the Stainer and Bell
Complete Piano Works. However, the other two works are printed
here. Perhaps Naxos feels that the Sea Idyll is somehow
unrepresentative? And maybe the Dances are deemed to be
‘teaching music’ and therefore unworthy of the cognoscenti’s attention.
This is a pity and one thinks of tar and ha’pennies …..
Yet perhaps I nitpick,
for this CD is an excellent addition to the growing conspectus
of John Ireland’s Piano Music. There are now some four ‘complete’
editions in circulation although I think that Eric Parkin on
Chandos is only available as MP3 download. Additionally Mark
Bebbington is adding to the lists.
to Ireland’s piano music was by way of the old Lyrita records
cut by Parkin and now happily available on CD. There is definitely
a ‘touch of magic’ in these recordings that seems to be lacking
from Lenehan’s playing. Yet there is much that impresses me
in this present Volume 3.
My favourite John
Ireland piano number is Spring Will Not Wait which is
actually an epilogue to the Housman song-cycle We’ll to the
Woods No More. The piece is meant to summarise and comment
upon the foregoing songs. It is a complex miniature that is
full of Ireland’s bitter-sweet harmonies and other characteristic
fingerprints. Yet this present version does not work for me.
It seems a little fast in places and some of the detail manages
to get lost: somehow my interest in the music seems to disappear
mid-piece – and is not really recovered. And this is in a piece
that has meant so much to me over the years! I listened to this
track three times to try to bottom out what is wrong –and I
guess that we are back to one word – magic.
Now the Soliloquy
is a different matter. This is a piece that is in my gift and
I have always enjoyed playing it to the best of my limited abilities.
Lenehan seems to capture the mood of introspection well and
perhaps his slightly faster tempi stop the piece from becoming
I enjoyed the performance
of the Ballade of London Nights. This was a work that
Ireland had left unfinished at the time of his death. It was
completed by judicious use of the opening material and was published
posthumously. London Nights is believed to have been
written about 1931, although there are conflicting views about
this. Of course it is one of a number of pieces in which Ireland
celebrated the Capital City. The slightly programmatic content
of the music is supposed to be suggestive of an early evening
in Chelsea followed by a more rumbustious session in Soho and
then a quite reflective moment on the Embankment by the river.
Yet the programme – if there actually be one – is largely redundant:
the music works ‘absolutely’.
The most important
composition on this CD is the Piano Sonata. This demanding
work was written between 1918 and 1920 and is one of the great
Sonatas in the 20th century piano repertoire. Ireland
is reported to have said that the first movement was about “Life”
the second was “more ecstatic” and the last was “inspired by
a rough autumnal day on Chanctonbury Ring & [the] old British
Encampment”. Ireland’s music has certainly been influenced
by the Sussex Downs – Mai-Dun, The Forgotten Rite
and the Legend for piano and orchestra all evoke this
part of England. I enjoyed Lenehan’s playing of this complex
work. He manages to explore and even perhaps get behind some
of the deepest mysteries in this work. The light and shade in
this Sonata is well defined by the pianist and the interest
never flags for a moment. I think the CD is worth purchasing
for this performance alone.
a convincing recital of most of the other pieces on this CD.
In particular I was impressed by his performance of the Preludes
– finding that he brought some new insights to Fire of Spring
in particular. Greenways are approached with feeling
and understanding – especially Ireland’s reflection on the Cherry
Tree – which must forever suggest Housman’s depressing lines
about the transience of life. I feel that On a Birthday Morning
lacks a little of the Grainger ‘clattering’ dynamic. The piece
was composed for erstwhile choirboy Arthur George Miller’s birthday
and is signed to be played ‘gaily’ and proceeding ‘fresh and
joyous.’ It just seems to me to lack a little vitality.
And lastly one of
the minor pleasures of this disc is the relatively unknown The
Almond Trees. This miniature, which makes use of the pentatonic
scale, is quite unusual in Ireland’s works. It is both impressionistic
from Two Pieces (1921) is well played (look out for a
prophecy of ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’!).
One of my Ireland ‘touchstone’ pieces is Amberley Wild Brooks.
As a place it holds a special magic for me and as music it is
a fine ‘evocation of the beauty of the Sussex countryside’.
Lenehan presents this piece as an urbane composition. It is
certainly a town person and not a rustic looking at the landscape.
There are no cows here. However, the water motif is never far
away from this enchanting work.
Equinox is a difficult piece to bring off. The metrical
imbalance of the work must always have a tendency to lead to
errors of judgement in any interpretation. Yet Lenehan presents
this involved evocation of the Sussex countryside with considerable
I can certainly
recommend this CD. I accept that John Lenehan would not be my
first choice. Perhaps, as I suggested above, I am seduced by
the recordings that I have lived with most of my adult life?
Maybe I feel that both Parkin and Rowlands worked with the composer
and had an added insight to his intentions. Yet there is much
in this present CD that impressed me. Over and above the Sonata
the highlights are The Almond Trees, Equinox and
Amberley Wild Brooks.
The bottom line
is that any recording of the piano music by a professional and
accomplished pianist is interesting and deserves out attention.
John Lenehan provides an important addition to the repertoire
which is largely dominated by Eric Parkin.