John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Alla Marcia (1911) [2:55]
Sursum Corda (1911) [4:34]
Elegiac Romance (1902) [9:46]
Miniature Suite (1904/1944) [2:56]
Capriccio (1911) [5:13]
Meditation on John Keble's Rogationtide Hymn (1958) [5:55]
The Holy Boy (A Carol of the Nativity) [3:19]
Cavatina (1904) [5:44]
'Elegy' (from: A Downland Suite) (arr. Alec Rowley) [3:45]
Epic March (arr. Robert Gower) [7:05]
Grayston IVES (b.1948)
Intrada (1977) [3:23]
Myles Hartley (organ, Harris Manchester College, Oxford)
rec. Harris Manchester College, Oxford, 22-23 September 2010. DDD
PRIORY PRCD 1054 [72:12]
A few firsts on this latest addition to Priory Records' bulky, splendid catalogue: a first recording of the Nicholson organ at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College, the complete works for organ of John Ireland and first recordings of Grayston Ives's three pieces.
Most of Ireland's original organ works date from the same period: indeed, the exuberantly triumphal Alla Marcia, the smiling, gentle Sursum Corda and the Capriccio, a saucy postcard of a piece, were all written in 1911. Coming almost a decade earlier, the Elegiac Romance is Ireland's earliest work for organ, and an "emotional tour de force" in the words of Richard Moore, who supplies the informative liner notes. It certainly is beautiful, virtuosic and loud - let no one be fooled by the quiet opening! Priory have in fact recorded this work twice before, with Peter King at Bath Abbey (PRCD335) and with Jonathan Bielby on the Binns organ in the slightly less uplifting surroundings of Rochdale Town Hall (PRCD298).
The comparatively light-hearted, witty Miniature Suite is another early work, although Ireland revised it four decades later. His last organ piece, the Meditation on John Keble's Rogationtide Hymn, is anything but light-hearted and witty, being instead both introspective and retrospective, composed when Ireland was very old and nearly blind. Its numinous quality saves it from gloominess.
The pieces by Grayston Ives add up to a mere ten minutes, hardly enough to reveal very much about the composer, but that is all he has written for the organ to date, according to the notes, which describe his harmonic language as "imbued with a deep sense of irony". That may well be the case, but the key thing surely is what the music sounds like, and Ives's sounds pretty good, from the grandeur of the Intrada written for Queen Elizabeth II's silver jubilee, to the gentleness of the Lullaby and finally the humorous march and pomp of the Processional.
There are two arrangements by other hands of Ireland's music, and two by Ireland himself. The Christmassy Holy Boy is one of his best loved works, and seems as well suited to the organ as to the original piano. The same may be said of the not dissimilar Elegy, extracted by Alec Rowley from Ireland's famous A Dowland Suite. The Cavatina, however, originally for violin and piano, is something of a revelation on the organ, and the Epic March, which Ireland wrote during the Second World War, clearly with William Walton's recent Crown Imperial still going round in his head, is deliciously arranged by Robert Gower - coincidentally a scholar of both Ireland and Walton! - and brings the recital to a stirring close.
Myles Hartley also has a connection to Gower, as a former organ pupil. Hartley is now Director of Music at Harris Manchester, and his familiarity with the organ - which dates back to 1893, was largely rebuilt in 1930, restored in 2008 and possessing a very decent sound - not to mention a fine technique, ensures a top quality listening experience, enhanced further by good quality sound.
Besides the front-cover close-up of one of the College's celebrated stained glass windows, the CD booklet sports an attractive full-page colour drawing of the College by Rod Warbrick.
John Ireland's organ music may not be his most important, but it is, like much of his corpus, of high quality nevertheless, inventive and melodic, expressive and thoughtful in equal measure, and this CD is a simple, attractive way to gain permanent access to it, not to mention a taster of Grayston Ives's.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Inventive and melodic, expressive and thoughtful.