John IRELAND  (1879-1962)
Piano Concerto in E flat (1930) [24:50]
Legend for piano and orchestra (1933) [13:14]
First Rhapsody (1906) [12:07]
Pastoral (1896) [4:45]
Indian Summer (1932) [2:17]
A Sea Idyll (1900) [12:29]
Three Dances (1913) [7:18]
John Lenehan (piano)
Royal Liverpool PO/John Wilson
rec. Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, 3 March 2007, 12 March 2011; Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, 18-19 February 2011. DDD
world premiere recording (Pastoral, Indian Summer)
NAXOS 8.572598 [77:00]
Like a nostalgic fragrance slowly released the Ireland Piano Concerto saunters in. It is the least heroic of concerto starts. With it John Lenehan carillons his way into the fourth volume in his long-spaced Ireland survey on Naxos. The earlier piano solo volumes are 8.553700, 8.553889 and 8.570461.
The Concerto is a relaxed floral extravagance, for the most part languid, but at under 24:50 it does not test the patience. The middle movement seems to drift between anticipations of Finzi, pre-echoes of These Things Shall be and Elgar's Serenade. The finale discovers rhythmic grit but plays along in the manner of a Divertimento.
The magical Legend is cut from a different cloth. It's more than a decade later for a start and Ireland has for a while abandoned pattering jocularity and floral byways. In their place he probes ancient rites and arcana. It's the stuff of Merlin's enchantments and M.R. James. The whole thing is dark and sinister - nothing remotely consolatory here. Its companions under the skin might be Bax's Second Northern Ballad and Saga Fragment and Miaskovsky's 13th Symphony but truth to tell I have never heard anything quite like it.
Both works receive attentive, indeed rapt, performances as one would anticipate. John Wilson is a well-experienced English music practitioner. His Ireland volume for the Halle label complements this one: The Forgotten Rite, Satyricon Overture, The Overlanders Suite, A London Overture and Epic March (CD HLL 7523).
There are many alternatives to the Concerto but none coupled in this way with the piano at the centre. Chandos have Eric Parkin with Bryden Thomson. Lyrita offer Boult and Parkin from the 1960s analogue era. Somm give us Mark Bebbington - something of a star as I know from hearing him play the concerto in Worthing a couple of years ago. The concerto has also been recorded in the 1950s by Eileen Joyce. Of all these I rather like the Thomson disc on Chandos. That's not the issue here as the coupling differs - direct comparisons are just not feasible.
The remaining 40 or so minutes - a generous helping - return us to Lenehan's embrace with the solo piano music. He at the same time presents two Ireland premieres on disc: the 1896 Pastoral and the very short Indian Summer, 1932. The First Rhapsody - not to be confused with the later mature darkly psychological Rhapsody - is a sturdy Lisztian piece of bravura with a shadowed dramatic core. Pastoral is a work in which the tension between a Brahmsian mien and the incipient call of the English countryside can be felt. Indian Summer is a mature pastoral vista which was later revised as The Cherry Tree in which form it appeared as part of the little suite Green Ways. It is a calming piece in which drama emerges in swirls, ripples and whorls of piano decoration. The three movement A Sea Idyll is early but is not without the light that was to make his mature music so fragrantly distinctive. The Three Dances of 1913 are, by contrast, rather ordinary and simple if neatly turned. They could perhaps have been penned by German or any one of a hundred purveyors of salon fillers. A case of curiosity satisfied but nothing special.
The densely informative notes are by Ireland specialist Fiona Richards. 

This is a generously filled disc addressing gaps and introducing good versions of the Concerto and Legend.
Rob Barnett

John Ireland on Naxos
A generously filled disc addressing gaps and introducing good versions of the Concerto and Legend.