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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor (1909) [30:53]
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor (1917) [29:30]
Fantasy Sonata in E flat major (1943) [12:53]
Cello Sonata in G minor (1923) [20:56]
The Holy Boy for cello and piano (1913 arr. 1919) [2:34]
Phantasie Trio in A minor (1907) [11:07]
Trio No. 2 in E major (1917) [13:21]
Trio No. 3 in E major (1938) [25:20]
Lydia Mordkovich (violin); Gervase de Peyer (clarinet); Ian Brown (piano); Karine Georgian (cello)
rec. Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, 1982-83 (Fantasy); Faculty of Music Concert Hall, Cambridge, 16-21 December 1993. DDD
CHANDOS 241-40 [73:35 + 73:55]
Experience Classicsonline

You might not immediately think so but to all intents and purposes this is in competition with Lyrita's 3CD set of Ireland’s chamber music on SRCD2271 (see review). The two sets are not identically coupled. The Lyrita is a double width box and 3 CD affair while the Chandos is a single width twofer. The Lyrita has the very early Sextet written under the candid shadow of Stanford. It's not essential Ireland but pleasingly Brahmsian. The Lyrita reflects the layout of the original SRCS LPs in the 1970s and is lavish with CD space. 

The Chandos was first issued in the mid-1990s as a double. It lacks the Sextet but adds the jewel-brief Holy Boy in one of its innumerable transcriptions - in company with the two violin sonatas, the sonatas for cello and for clarinet and the three trios.

The timings are close between Lyrita and Chandos although the trios are all shorter by a couple of minutes on Chandos.

Ireland's English passion is a reserved thing. He lacks the unbuttoned sentiment of an Elgar or a Bax. He is subtle and suggestive rather than overt. The Lyrita recordings identify fully with this aspect where by contrast Mordkovitch and Bown flood the music with greater emotional temperature - a more Latinate approach. This works to grand and sometimes Tchaikovskian effect in the First Violin Sonata; one of the most engaging performances I have ever heard of this work. The Sonata was premiered by the composer with Marjorie Hayward.

The swirling eddies and undertow of the Second Violin Sonata also work well in direct rhetoric and in the touching half-lights of the middle movement. The druidic monumental writing of the finale is well done as is the carefree race to the finishing line. The premiere was given by Sammons and Murdoch in the uniform of the Grenadier Guards.

The earliest recording here - the Fantasy-Sonata - is from what was originally a mixed British clarinet and piano recital. The sound is typical of the company - a real enjoyably rich recreation of the sound of player and instrument - more Decca-close than EMI-spatial. It was written for Frederick Thurston who can be heard playing it on a Symposium CD.

The Cello Sonata is given a completely convincing and very romantically taut reading by Georgian and Bown who is such a strength throughout these performances. Has the slow movement at 4:30 ever been done with such slow brooding passion? The premiere fell to Beatrice Harrison with Evlyn Howard-Jones in April 1924. Ireland's gift for romance falling poignantly away at the end of climaxes can be sampled in the compact Phantasie Trio which also has a ‘dumky’ magical wildness about it (3:27).

Things are more subdued in the Second Trio - another work, alongside the Second Sonata, from close to the murderous apex of the Great War - how long would it continue? It does however end in a blaze of what seems youthfully searing optimism comparable with works of the same era from Herbert Howells.

The big Trio No. 3 is in four movements and is dedicated to Walton. It is based on a withdrawn work we can now hear in some measure in another recording not yet reviewed here - Ireland's Clarinet Trio. It is another dreamily yet active lyrical work written one side of the Second World War. His last chamber piece, the Fantasy Sonata written in 1943 bereft of his beloved Channel Isles dates from two years before the end of the war. The penultimate movement of Trio No. 3 seemed a shade diffuse in this performance - something which I did not feel with the ad hoc trio formed for the Lyrita chamber project.

The Chandos sound reflects a more recent and fully digital product. The Lyrita tapes are analogue from the period 1967-74; the Chandos 1984-93. The Chandos offers the essential chamber Ireland on two tightly packed discs in voluptuous sound and performances and with Mordkovitch's fruity tone as against Yfrah Neaman's silvery filament.

The Chandos is more of an international product with Lewis Foreman's just-so notes in English, French and German. The whole set will presumably enjoy superior worldwide distribution.

Rob Barnett


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