John IRELAND (1879-1962)
My Song Is Love Unknown - Church Music
Te Deum in F (1907) [6.45]
Benedictus (1912) [4.54]
Communion Service in C (1913) [14.32]
My song is love unknown (1920) [2.56]
Elegiac Romance (organ solo) (1902) [8.27]
Evening Service in C (1941) [4:40]
Christ the Lord is risen today (Sampford) [2.05]
Four Unaccompanied Carols [8.27]: Adam lay ybounden (1956) [1.38]; New Prince, New Pomp (1927) [2.45]; The Holy Boy (1913-15) [2.37]; A New Year Carol (1941) [1.27]
Greater love hath no man (1912) [5.29]
I am trusting (Eastergate) (1905) [2.35]
Ex ore innocentium (1944) [3.24]
Capriccio (organ solo) (1911) [5.03]
Island Praise (1955) [1.53]
Evening Service in F (1915) [5.56]
Charles Harrison (organ)
Lincoln Cathedral Choir/Aric Prentice
rec. Lincoln Cathedral, England; 6-7, 27-29 February 2012. DDD
NAXOS 8.573014 [77.05]
In his excellent notes, on which I shall draw freely for background in this review, Jeremy Dibble makes clear that John Ireland, a High Church Anglican by sympathy, spent a good deal of time as a practising church musician. Starting in his student days, probably in 1895, he was organist in a succession of London churches until 1926. Even thereafter he hankered to get back into an organ loft and briefly achieved his ambition as Director of Music in a church on Guernsey in early 1940. Sadly, the German invasion of the Channel Islands a few months later put an end to that appointment; Ireland escaped back to the British mainland but never again held a church appointment.
Against this background it’s unsurprising that the music he wrote for the liturgy, as represented on this excellent disc, should have a practical feel to it; it is, to borrow Hindemith’s term, music for use. I hasten to add that I don’t mean to belittle the music in any way; it’s all good music and some of it is much better than good. What I mean is that the music we hear from Lincoln Cathedral choir sounds eminently singable. Ireland didn’t by any means compromise his artistic standards in these pieces but it seems clear that he sought to write music which the choirs who took it up would find pleasurable to sing and which would connect with the congregations.
Indeed, when he was commissioned to write his Communion Service in C he was given an explicit brief to compose music that would be within the compass of an average choir. This, I think, he did successfully, adding a ‘Mag’ and ‘Nunc’ as companion pieces nearly thirty years later. The F Major Service pieces are musically more substantial. Here, too, the music was not all written at the same time. The Te Deum, which is sturdy and confident for the most part, was composed in 1907 but the Benedictus and the Evening Canticles followed in 1914/15 and these three pieces are unified especially by a common doxology. Aric Prentice and his Lincoln choir perform these four pieces very well indeed: the Te Deum is a well-chosen opener to their programme for they give it a stirring performance.
Ireland’s practicality as a church music composer was not confined exclusively to the choir stalls: he didn’t forget about the congregations. People all over the world have sung the hymn My song is love unknown for nearly 100 years now: how many know the identity of the composer of this fine tune? I wasn’t familiar with the hymn tune Sampford but it, too, is a good one; it’s vigorous, confident and - that word again - very singable.
Inevitably - and rightly - Aric Prentice has included in his programme the Passiontide anthem Greater love hath no man. Indeed, no programme such as this could omit it for it is one of Ireland’s best-known pieces in any genre and a very fine anthem. I’ve known it since I first sang it as a schoolboy and I still find it memorable and moving. It only takes a few minutes to perform yet it seems to have a much bigger span. Ireland orchestrated the anthem in 1924 and this version was recorded by Richard Hickox for Chandos in 1990 (CHAN 10110X) but I think this large-scale version is too much of a good thing. A spirited, sensitive performance by a really good church choir accompanied by organ is much more satisfying and that’s exactly what we get here. The other anthem is Ex ore innocentium for high voices, which Jeremy Dibble rightly describes as “ravishing”. It receives a first rate performance here, launched by a very good solo soprano, Ffion Frazher. The Lincoln choristers sing this exquisite little piece with lovely bright tone.
Also most enjoyable are the four unaccompanied carols. The best known is The Holy Boy, Ireland’s 1941 arrangement of one of his earlier piano pieces. It’s sensitively done here. I also enjoyed very much the performance of Adam lay ybounden with its nice swinging tune. I was intrigued to read in the notes that this setting makes a brief reference to The Holy Boy which Jeremy Dibble suggests may be a rueful reference.
Throughout this programme the Lincoln Cathedral choir is on top form and I enjoyed their singing very much: clearly Aric Prentice has trained them well. Charles Harrison contributes some excellent accompaniments - and two good solos. He’s playing on the cathedral’s 1898 four-manual organ which was the last large instrument the building and finishing of which was personally supervised by ‘Father’ Henry Willis. According to the booklet it’s scarcely been altered since and it sounds exceptionally well on this recording.
This disc is very well worth hearing by all who love the music of the English Church. The music is rewarding and enjoyable and it’s been splendidly served by the musicians of Lincoln Cathedral.
See also reviews by Ian Lace and Gary Higginson
Rewarding and enjoyable church music, splendidly performed in Lincoln.
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