The resurgence of interest in John Ireland’s music is welcome
and personally very pleasing. I can almost imagine the wry and
knowing smile of satisfaction on the face of Ireland’s great teacher
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. Although relationships were often
fraught and his methods harsh the influential Stanford loved to
see his pupils progressing. Ireland certainly came a long way
from his early days at the Royal College of Music (1897-1901)
when in 1898 his great master said to the then very young student,
“All water and Brahms me bhoy and more water than Brahms …
Study some Dvořák for a bit and bring me something that isn’t
like Brahms.” (‘Charles Villiers Stanford’ by Paul Rodmell,
Ashgate, 2002). The product of this remark was Ireland’s composition
of the precocious and charming Sextet for clarinet, horn
and string quartet.
new Naxos issue features the three piano trios. The Gould
Piano Trio is an outstanding ensemble that I have seen perform
live several times. In recital I have been impressed by the
Gould’s consistently high level of performance and have generally
found their standard of music-making exceptional.
In 1907 Ireland gained
considerable attention with his Phantasie Trio in A minor,
a tuneful and appealing single movement score dedicated
to Stanford. The work was an entry for the ‘1907 Cobbett Competition
for Phantasy Piano Trio’ one of the series (1905-19) of prestigious
events instituted by Walter Willson Cobbett to promote British
chamber music. Like all entries the score had to follow Cobbett’s
‘Phantasy’ (often spelt Phantasie) convention
of being designed in one continuous movement, the parts to
be of equal importance and not to last more than twelve minutes.
According to B. Hodges, Ireland’s Phantasie Trio in A minor
came third - the booklet notes claim it was second prize
- to the winning entry Frank Bridge’s Phantasy in C
minor and the runner-up James Friskin’s Phantasy in
E minor. (‘W.W. Cobbett’ doctoral dissertation by Betsi Hodges,
University of North Carolina, Greensboro, USA. 2008). Ireland’s
score was premiered to significant acclaim by the London Trio
at London’s Aeolian Hall in January 1909.
A minor Phantasie Trio opens with a section marked
In tempo moderato. It has a densely textured Brahmsian
quality that conveys a feeling of warm and carefree abandon.
I enjoyed the Meno mosso, quasi andantino with
its abundance of romantic sentimentality. The section marked
Temp I is sad and yearning but is interspersed with
brisker dance-like episodes. In the Vivace e giocoso
the dark clouds dissolve to reveal brilliant sunlight culminating
in a vivacissimo conclusion.
in 1917 during his employment as organist/choirmaster at St.
Luke’s Church, Chelsea it is difficult not to view Ireland’s
Piano Trio No. 2 in E major as his personal reaction
to the horrors of the Great War. It seems that the single
movement score was a reworking of an earlier D major Trio
for clarinet, cello and piano. The première of
the score was given at the Wigmore Hall, London in June 1917
played by violinist Albert Sammons, cellist Charles Warwick-Evans
with Ireland at the piano.
the Piano Trio No. 2 the opening section Poco lento
conveys a heartbreaking yearning and passion. To an extent
the section marked Allegro giusto (quasi doppio
movimento) is suggestive of the marching tread of the
infantry contrasting with the beautiful yearning quality of
the Andante. The section marked Allegro agitato
offers troubled and disconcerting writing that precedes the
Finale, a Largamente conveying mixed moods and
Piano Trio No. 3 in E major completed in 1938 bears
a dedication to William Walton. This is a sign of Ireland’s
high regard for Walton as he rarely dedicated his scores.
Here Ireland uses material from an earlier clarinet trio that
had laid in a drawer for well over two decades. Cast in four
movements the Trio No. 3 received its first radio broadcast
in April 1938 in a performance by Antonio Brosa (violin),
Antoni Sala (cello) and Ireland as pianist.
score opens with an Allegro moderato movement that
immediately gave me a sense of speed and dashing almost darting
around. Ireland combines this with gentle passages of passion.
Rhythmic and jerky, the Scherzo conveys a curious mood
of rather bewildering intentions. It feels clear that the
Andante cantabile movement is music of love. It heaves
with beauty and passion with just a slight undercurrent of
tension. I enjoyed the briskly played Con moto,
Finale - a carefree outpouring of joy and excitement.
for violin and piano, the Berceuse (1902), Cavatina
(1904) and Bagatelle (1911) are melodic if rather inconsequential
pieces for the drawing room. Although I have never quite understood
its popularity The Holy Boy is the Ireland score one
is most likely to encounter. Composed on Christmas Day in
1913 as a piano piece this light, dance-like piece appears
in various guises. Ireland made this revision for violin and
piano around 1919.
competition for recordings of Ireland’s chamber music is spearheaded
by the Chandos set (see review)
that fits eight chamber scores on two discs and is the most
obvious choice. This is expertly performed by Lydia Mordkovitch
(violin), Gervase de Peyer (clarinet), Ian Brown (piano) and
Karine Georgian (cello). It features the two violin sonatas,
all three works for piano trio, the Fantasy Sonata for
clarinet and piano, the Cello Sonata and The Holy
Boy for cello and piano.
reissued Lyrita I strongly admire the performances on the
triple set containing eight chamber scores. I have become
strongly attached to and have known these performances since
their release in the 1970s on Lyrita LPs: SRCS 59, 64 and
98. They have become probably my personal favourite collection
of Ireland’s chamber music. The list of performers includes
Yfrah Neaman (violin), Julian Lloyd Webber (cello) and Eric
Parkin (piano). Compared to the rival version they take the
three trios at substantially slower speeds, with the
Phantasie Trio taking longer than the designed twelve
minutes. This is not too much of a problem as it seems that
Ireland would himself often take his scores slower than many
of his interpreters. The disc also includes the early Sextet
for clarinet, horn and string quartet on Lyrita (see review)
as well as the Cello Sonata, Fantasy Sonata
and the two Violin Sonatas.
Holywell Ensemble recorded the three Piano Trios together
with the Sextet in Abingdon, Oxfordshire in 1997. There
is some fine playing here and the recorded sound is of a decent
standard on the ASV label CD DCA 1016.
disc of Ireland chamber music worth investigating is on the
Sanctuary label. It is part of their ASV Gold series but it
contains only the Piano Trio No. 2. This is a collection on
a single disc that also contains the Violin Sonata No.1, Cello
Sonata and The Holy Boy. Daniel Hope (violin), Julian
Lloyd Webber (cello) and John McCabe (piano) are the performers
in these splendid recordings. They were made at various times
between 1987-2003 on Sanctuary (see review).
have gained considerable pleasure from the reissued historic
mono recordings from 1938 of the Phantasie Trio in A minor
played by Frederick Grinke (violin), Florence Hooton (cello)
and Kenneth Taylor (piano). This recording has been digitally
re-mastered from the original 78 rpm Decca records and stands
up remarkably well for its seventy year age. The coupling
contains historic recordings from 1930 and 1945 of Ireland’s
two Violin Sonatas with Ireland at the piano. It is on Dutton
Historic Epoch CDLX 7103 coupled with The Holy Boy.
Returning to the present
Naxos disc: this assured playing makes a strong and impressively
communicative case for Ireland’s music. What’s more it is
very naturally recorded with a splendid balance. Bruce Phillips
provides top-drawer booklet notes. I do wish Naxos would cease
using stock photographs as their front cover artwork - it
certainly cannot help sales. This was a pleasure
to review and will enhance any record collection.
see also Review
by John France