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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Mai-Dun (1921) [11:04]
The Forgotten Rite (1913) [7:09]
Satyricon Overture (1946) [8:45]
The Overlanders Suite (1946) arr. Charles Mackerras [20:08]
A London March (1936) [12:14]
Epic March (1942) [8:18]
Hallé Orchestra/John Wilson
rec. March 2007, BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
HALLÉ CD HLL 7523 [67:41]

Experience Classicsonline

Excellently recorded and played, this is a useful, Boult-like introduction to some of Ireland’s orchestral works. There is variety; the Machenesque world of Rite juxtaposed with WW2 era film music, an ENSA-originated flag-aver jostling with a saucy Satyricon. I say Boult-like not because the performances particularly reminded me of him, but because the disc does. Lyrita SRCD240 sports all these pieces bar Satyricon.
Let’s take that item first. Boult did record Satyricon for Lyrita [SRCD241] coupled with the Legend for piano, the Piano Concerto, These things shall be, and Two symphonic studies (arranged by Alan Bush). John Wilson takes it at a sprightly tempo with an unashamedly romantic B section. It’s essentially the same tempo as Boult’s but the Lyrita engineering – over 40 years old now – is surprisingly more effective at certain important moments. The greater immediacy of the Lyrita probably suits the brashness of the writing better – note the whipcrack in Boult’s recording. Boult too has more character, a greater sense of incident, and - crucially - more sculpted dynamics. Wilson’s reading is more on one dynamic level – it’s flatter and less exciting and effective.
I’ve concentrated on this particular example not because the Wilson/Hallé traversal is poor but because Boult’s is, I think, demonstrably superior. And it’s example that will, by extension, recur throughout. Mai-Dun is sumptuously recorded in terms of its romantic effusion but at a slightly slower tempo, Barbirolli with the same orchestra as Wilson’s gets his 1949 forces to evoke the trudge and movement rather more pointedly. Wilson seems just a touch rhythmically foursquare after JB and the latter’s changes of orchestral colour, despite the recording’s date, are bewitching. Wilson’s approach is perhaps rather more lightweight.
The Forgotten Rite is assuredly well played and ‘placed’. Pacing is good, and so too is the strangeness and romanticism of the writing. The Overlanders Suite goes very well. There are refined textures and first class playing from the orchestra’s principals – I’d single out leader Lyn Fletcher (I assume), and the principal clarinet, bassoon, oboe and flute in the Romance section in particular. A London Overture is ripe and tangy with, once more, fine individual and corporate playing though again there’s a greater sense of character in Barbirolli’s recording – he was always proud of his Bloomsbury heritage. The Epic March is punchy and Elgarian and makes for an enjoyable envoi.
Throughout however Wilson has to defer to the established masters of the genre – Boult and Barbirolli – in interpretative matters. For a generous introduction to the composer’s orchestral music however it has some good things going for it.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Michael Cookson and John France (February Recording of the Month)


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