John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Earth’s Call - 32 songs for soprano and piano:
Detailed track-listing at end of review
April Fredrick (soprano)
Mark Bebbington (piano)
rec. Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 28-29 August 2012
SOMM SOMMCD 0137 [74.26]
The catalogues show a number of recordings of John Ireland’s songs; the majority recorded by men. This new recording is a welcome addition especially since so many of these songs have a distinct feminine interest, notably the eight numbers that make up the Mother and Child song cycle.
The young American soprano, April Fredrick, is secure enough technically; I just wish, at times, she would have invested more expression in her singing. For instance, in ‘The Only Child’, I would have liked to have experienced a real feeling of chill and suffering as the poor mother, carrying her baby, tramps through an icy winter night. Mark Bebbington continues to impress with his nicely shaded and nuanced accompaniments. Listen for instance to his dramatically descriptive part and his cuckoo-phrased solo in this collection’s title song, Earth’s Call. It’s an arresting five-minute pastoral evocation with trees waving over ploughed fields and the call of cuckoos singing across the landscape.
There are a number of Ireland favourites here and I will mention but a few. Christina Rosetti’s haunting When I am Dead My Dearest clearly drew a restrained but equally heartfelt response from Ireland. The Trellis from the Two Songs of 1920 is fun and naughtily erotic as the lovers hide from prying eyes behind the trellis. From the 1928 Two Songs there is Tryst, a setting of words by Symbolist, Arthur Symons. One of Ireland’s own favourites, it cleverly depicts, especially through the piano’s sultry ostinato, a hot summer afternoon’s meditation and anticipation. Thomas Hardy’s verses elicited some of John Ireland’s best songs and we have Three Songs to Poems by Thomas Hardy in this collection. Two, with such lovely melodies, are firm favourites of mine: Summer Schemes and Her Song. Summer Schemes has joyous country spirits but is tinged with an anxious anticipation – “…but who shall say What may not chance before that day...”. The piano’s final down-beat chord is not too optimistic. ‘Her Song’ is hauntingly beautiful - the sad words thought to be a soliloquy prompted by the ghost of Hardy’s first wife Emma.
There are two inclusions of special interest since they were shaped by other British composers as well as Ireland. Tutto è sciolto represented Ireland’s contribution, along with a number of other composers including Bax, Bliss, and Moeran, to The Joyce Book in tribute to James Joyce. Ireland’s song (translated to mean ‘All is lost’) sets Joyce’s verses about love given, forsaken and its loss regretted(?). Variations sur Cadet Rousselle was another collaborative work with contributions by Bax, Frank Bridge and Eugene Goossens as well as Ireland. The song is droll and nonsensical about the young cadet who has three eyes, just three hairs, three sons by three wives in three separate districts but only three pence to pay off all his creditors.
Of the rest I would just mention, from Mother and Child, The Blind Boy and his touching lament that he cannot see the flowers but looks forward to a day when he might see them. Then there’s Love and Friendship — to words by Emily Brontë, from 1928’s Three Songs — commenting that the latter outlasts the former. From Songs Sacred and Profane, there’s The Salley Gardens, Yeats’ retelling of the experience of a young man cautioned in vain to take love lightly.
An enjoyable collection that will be welcomed by all admirers of John Ireland.
Earth’s Call (1918) [5.14]
When I am Dead My Dearest (1924) [1.43]
Mother and Child (1918):
‘The Only Child’ [1.41]
‘Skylark and Nightingale’ [0.56]
‘The Blind Boy’ [1.11]
‘The Garland’ [1.12]
Two Songs (1920):
‘The Trellis’ [2.49]
‘My True Love Hath My Heart’ [1.44]
Three Songs (1928):
‘Love and Friendship’ [1.54]
‘Friendship in Misfortune’ [2.07]
‘The One Hope’ [4.20]
The Sacred Flame (1918) [2.05]
Two Songs (1928):
‘During Music’ [2.30]
Tutto è Sciolto (1933) [1.58]
The Three Ravens (1920) [3.42]
Songs Sacred and Profane (1933):
‘The Advent’ [3.34]
‘Hymn for a Child’ [1.48]
‘My Fair’ [3.10]
‘The Sally Gardens’ [2.00]
‘The Soldier’s Return’ [1.04]
‘The Scapegoat’ [1.22]
Three Songs to Poems by Thomas Hardy (1925):
‘Summer Schemes’ (2.07)
‘Her Song’ (2.48)
Love is A Sickness Full of Woe (1921) [2.15]
Variations sur ‘Cadet Rousselle’ (1919) [6.10]
J’ai douze boeufs (1918) [2.32]
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