is fortunate that Stephen Fox has written a fine essay
on the rediscovery and realisation of John Ireland’s ‘forgotten’ Clarinet
Trio. Any listener of this work – or potential purchaser
of this Naxos CD - could do a lot worse than to read this
article. It is an excellent example of musical scholarship
that is not too demanding on the reader’s technical knowledge.
Trio was composed in 1912-13 and was first performed at
a Thomas Dunhill chamber concert in the Steinway Hall on
9 June 1914. The soloists were Charles Draper, who was
known as the grandfather of English clarinettists, May
Mukle (cello) and the composer played the piano. Unfortunately,
although the concert is mentioned in the Musical Times,
there is no criticism of the piece.
Ireland withdrew the work after a couple of performances
and reworked some of the material into a ‘conventional’ Piano
Trio; however this did not come to fruition. Some of the
music was finally used in the Piano Trio No. 3 of 1938.
Clarinet Trio is a million miles away in stylistic terms
from the early Sextet - also on this CD. For one thing,
the composer has by now established his own individual
voice. Gone is the sound-world of Brahms and Stanford,
to be replaced by the influence of Debussy and perhaps
even Ravel. However, in spite of the French flavour, Stephen
Fox is right in suggesting that much of this music could
not have been written by anyone other than a British composer.
is a great discovery for a host of reasons. But, as I listened
to this piece, I felt that the overriding achievement has
been the resurrection of a quintessential Ireland work.
It is an interesting composition that has many highlights
and not a few truly lovely moments. It is a piece that
will have to work its way into the British Music enthusiast’s
psyche, however, even a superficial hearing is enough to
convince the listener that it is certainly an injustice
that this work has been unheard and unavailable for such
a long time. Full marks to Stephen Fox!
often reflect that one of the earliest Ireland pieces that
I heard was the Fantasy Sonata for Clarinet and Piano.
I think I knew this work even before my school-boy discovery
of the song "If there were Dreams to Sell"
or the London Pieces
seem to have known and loved all my life. I cannot now
recall if it was a live performance, a radio broadcast
or a vinyl recording that introduced me to this work some
38 years ago – but it has remained a favourite ever since.
It is not a long piece of music, but in the space of just
under quarter of an hour Ireland seems to say so many things – and
every note is worthy of its composer. The Fantasy Sonata
is a single movement work that harks back to the earlier Phantasy
written for the Cobbett competitions in the early years
of the twentieth century. However, the Fantasy is actually
presented in three related, but unrepeated sections. It
achieves a perfect balance between a Cobbett-ian phantasy
and a formal sonata.
is a late work, written during some of the darkest days
of the Second World War. Bruce Phillips reminds the listener
that Ireland had to flee his beloved Guernsey in 1940 shortly
before the Germans invaded. So it is hardly surprising
that this, his most important work since Sarnia, is full
of introspection and reflection.
Fantasy Sonata was to be Ireland’s last major chamber work.
I wrote in another review that I felt there was nothing ‘end
of term’ about this music: this present performance reinforces
this view. It is a stunning Sonata that is both difficult
and satisfying for performers. It can be seen as a work
that sums up and consummates the composer’s career.
for clarinet and piano, is an attractive, but
rarely presented, version of this ubiquitous piece. I
guess that most amateur pianists have approached the
original tune with varying degrees of success and confidence
over the years. However, there are also versions for
string orchestra, organ, four-part choir and cello and
piano – so the present edition is an interesting addition
to the catalogue. The piece, written in 1913 was originally
the third of Four Preludes for piano finally published
in 1917. The inspiration for the original incarnation
of this work was Bobby Glassby, a chorister at St Luke’s
Church in Chelsea. The present recording made use of
the transcription for viola and piano.
Sextet was written after the nineteen year old composer
had attended a concert at the St James’ Hall. Here, he
heard Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet with Richard Mühlfeld and
the Joachim Quartet. Ireland was impressed by both the
work and the ‘revelation’ of the clarinet playing. He immediately
set to work on this present work, and took the opportunity
to add the French Horn to the ensemble. The Sextet was
modelled on the chamber music and symphonic structure of
the work was tried out at the Royal College of Music under
the auspices of Charles Villiers Stanford, it was never
formally performed. Stanford apparently enjoyed the first
and second movements but felt that the final ‘in tempo
moderato’ was ‘not organic’.
a century later, musicologists have found that it is harder
to agree with this sentiment. Lewis Foreman has suggested
that it is in this last movement that the “younger composer
was beginning tentatively to find himself.”
final evaluation of this work must recognise that the Sextet
owes much to the musical ethos of Stanford and by definition
Johannes Brahms. It is a work that gives relatively little
intimation of the John Ireland that was to emerge in later
years. There is a whole musical world separating this Sextet
and a piece such as the Piano Sonata or the Fantasy Sonata.
Yet, as an example of a student work that is exemplified
by a youthful freshness, that reveals a good understanding
of instrumentation and form and is never short of invention,
it is an essential piece for every enthusiast of John Ireland’s
is unfortunate that this work remained unperformed for
over sixty years. Fortunately, the composer had not destroyed
it, but had kept the score in a drawer. He was persuaded
to allow the work to be given at a Hampton Music Club concert
on 25 March 1960.
performances of these works are first rate. This recording
makes a fine stable-mate to the Melos and Holywell Ensemble
versions of the Sextet on ASV and Lyrita and the Fantasy
Sonata played by Gervase de Peyer and Eric Parkin on the
programme notes are good, but perhaps could have been a
little more fulsome, although I accept that Stephen Fox
does give a good account of the Trio as noted above.
CD is a must
for all Ireland enthusiasts – however
many recordings of the Fantasy Sonata there are (9); there
is always room for one more – and this present CD is a
Other reviews of John Ireland on Naxos