John Ireland is mainly remembered for his exquisite miniatures: solo instrumental - written mainly for the piano - and chamber pieces and songs. These, together with a handful of orchestral pieces, were composed in the Late-Romantic tradition and were often influenced by Debussy and Ravel. Their common denominator was melody and accessibility.
The tendency of Ireland’s music towards influences of antiquity and the occult has somewhat overshadowed his church music. Again strongly melodic, these compositions suggest the Victorian and Edwardian character of British music of that genre – especially Stanford and Elgar.
The title of this album, My Song is Love Unknown
is also the title of John Ireland’s most popular hymn tune. It is still sung regularly in churches up and down the country. The Christmas carol, The Holy Boy
is another Ireland favourite while the stirring Greater Love Hath No Man
has great emotional impact. It was written as a meditation for Passiontide and quickly became popular during World War I. This was against the backdrop of that terrible conflict’s ever-mounting casualties. Ireland’s moving setting of the words, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” touched hearts and minds. The present performance is however a little too subdued. Then again, I can’t help remembering the greater power of Ireland’s larger version set for soprano and baritone soloists, choir and orchestra. It can be heard on Chandos CHAN 8879 (1990) by Bryn Terfel, Paula Bott and the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Richard Hickox. This was reissued at mid-price as CHAN X10110
The whole Naxos programme is memorable: the Communion Service
in C, for instance, with its Fauré-like Kyrie
, the lovely Sanctus
and the magnificent Gloria
. Then there is the uplifting Te Deum
in F and the glorious Evening Service
in F with its moving Nunc Dimitis
. The Stanford influence is markedly apparent.
John Ireland was choirmaster for many years in south central London churches: including Holy Trinity, Sloane Street where he was deputy organist and then St Luke’s in Chelsea where he was choirmaster and organist for some 22 years. Two organ pieces are included in this programme: the Elegiac Romance
is lyrical, intensely so from 6.00 onwards. It is a complex piece in technique and mood. The delightful Capriccio
is joyous throughout and I, for one, could not rid my mind of its association with train-like chuggings; a joyous holiday treat.
This disc is a treat not only for John Ireland enthusiasts but for all lovers of English church music.
It was recorded with the generous help of the John Ireland Charitable Trust.