John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor (1908-1909 rev.1917) [30:26]
Violin Sonata No.2 in A minor (1915-1917) [27:58]
Cello Sonata in G minor (1923) [20:40]
Lucy Gould (violin); Alice Neary (cello); Benjamin Frith (piano)
rec. Champs Hill, West Sussex, 19-21 October 2009. DDD
NAXOS 8.572497 [79:05]

We now live in good times when it comes to Ireland's chamber music. Single disc surveys of the string sonatas are also relatively plentiful. I've referred to a few at the end of this review for ease of reading, though other recordings are certainly around. Now at budget price comes the latest entrant and it does what Dutton should have done when it released its historic disc of the composer playing the Violin Sonatas with august colleagues Sammons and Grinke but not including the Cello Sonata with Antoni Sala; Naxos has sensibly presented all these three sonatas together; normally the fiddle player will baulk at this and include some of Ireland's morceaux for his instrument. But the difference here is that all three performers are members of the Gould Piano Trio, so democratic instincts win the day. I should note that the Sala-Ireland 78 has now recently and belatedly appeared Dutton coupled with Ireland playing some of the piano music and Pears singing some of the songs.

I think Ireland would be impressed by the space the Gould-Frith duo give the opening movement of the First Sonata. Ireland was particular about a full justice being paid to his piano writing; even so this duo is a full minute slower. They are touchingly refined and warm in the lovely slow movement with some splendidly conceived phrasing and articulation from Frith. The Second Sonata reveals the fine detailing, the precise exploration of Ireland's writing, that this duo invariably locates. Gould is a refined, unfussy player with a slightly tight vibrato in the higher positions. Frith doesn't overpower her in the more strenuous passages; ensemble is fine, and so too the recording balance in Champs Hill. I like the way Gould blanches her tone in the slow movement, much as she did at times in the slow movement of the First, though I feel a lack of power in the finale in its more tempestuous passages. Nevertheless this and the companion sonata are admirably shaped; the brightness of the playing and its tempo-related intelligence remaining highly enjoyable and rewarding to hear.

The Cello Sonata is a work that produces little real tempo variation among performers. Some take the finale a little faster, or a little slower, but in the main it's interesting how consistent performers over the years continue to be. If you were a betting man you could lays odds-on that a performance will last 20:35 and not be more than 20 seconds out either way. The differences, of course, lie in inflexion, and in the relative depth accorded the central slow movement. Alice Neary plays with considerable conviction, and ratchets and releases the tension with acute insight; I'm thinking in particular of her way - Frith's too - as the first movement reaches its powerful ascent. There's discreet tenderness in the slow movement and a colloquial vitality to the finale, with Frith as ever keeping things alert and energised at the keyboard. Single recommendations are very difficult but as a trio of performances this Naxos disc brings plenty of character and perceptive musicianship to the table.

Other performances:-

Both violin sonatas and the Bagatelle played by Michael Davis and Nelson Harper on VMM2009. They're a bit slow in the central movement of the Second Sonata (review).

Both violin sonatas and various small pieces for violin and piano played by Paul Barritt and Catherine Edwards on Helios CDH55164 (review). Good in No.1, they are very fast in No.2 - too fast for my tastes.

Violin Sonata 1 and the Cello Sonata with the Second Trio; Daniel Hope, Julian Lloyd Webber and John McCabe; ASV GLD4009 (review).

Violin Sonata No.2 in 'English Romanticism' disc, Oliver Lewis and Jeremy Filsell. Hold onto your hats for the unprecedentedly (impossibly) fast tempi. Guild GMCD7120.

Chamber box on Chandos CHAN9377/78 with Lydia Mordkovitch, Karine Georgian and Ian Brown (review).

Chamber box on Lyrita SRCD.2271; Neaman, Navarra and Parkin (review, with mentions of Chandos and other performances).

Historic choice; Ireland with Grinke (No.1) and Sammons (No.2) plus Phantasie Trio and Holy Boy; Dutton CDLX 7103 (review).

Jonathan Woolf

Plenty of character and perceptive musicianship.