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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Concertino Pastorale for string orchestra (1939) [19:40]
The Holy Boy (A Carol of the Nativity) for string orchestra (1913/1941) [2:30]
A Downland Suite for string orchestra (1932/1941) [8:50]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)

Rosemary (No. 1 of two Entr’actes) (1906) [3:26]
Suite for string orchestra (1909-10) [20:52]
Sally in our Alley (No. 1 of Two Old English Songs) (1916) [3:29]
Cherry Ripe (No. 2 of Two Old English Songs) (1916) [3:11]
Lament for string orchestra (1915) [3:35]
Sir Roger de Coverley, Christmas Dance (1939) [4:25]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. 1970, 1979, 1977. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.242 [70.02]

This most welcome disc gathers together and restores to circulation a number of vintage Boult performances. In passing it’s interesting to note how many of his assignments for Lyrita consisted of short pieces though he was still doing big works in concerts and in the recording studios at the time. By recording him in such works, however, Lyrita helpfully – and probably deliberately – filled in a number of gaps in his discography. I’m not aware that he otherwise recorded any of the works in this collection yet all the performances are welcome and, at their best, treasurable.

Rob Barnett has commented in his review that the recordings of the Bridge items, being later in provenance, have a somewhat warmer sound. I wouldn’t disagree. However, what struck me on listening through the disc is the overall consistency of the collection. Throughout the programme the LPO is on excellent form and so is Boult.

He brings his special authority in English music to the two most substantial works. Ireland’s Concertino Pastorale is a fine and most enjoyable work. After an introduction to the first movement that is broodingly pensive the rest of that movement is delightfully fresh and, indeed, pastoral. As note writer Harold Rutland says, the second movement, entitled ‘Threnody’ taps Ireland’s "most characteristic vein of reflective lyricism". Boult shapes this lovely music with care and affection. The concluding Toccata pulses with vitality.

The notes for the Bridge items are by John Bishop and he avers that the Suite for string orchestra deserves to be played far more often, perhaps as an alternative to some of the more established English string masterpieces. I think that’s a very fair comment and Boult’s dedicated reading makes the relative neglect of this work seem inexplicable. The first movement sings wonderfully. It’s fine music which, as Bishop says, has echoes of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. In the delightfully buoyant Intermezzo Boult gets his players to articulate the rhythms splendidly so that the music skips and dances. The Nocturne is the heart of the piece. This is deep music and it finds Boult at his best. After that the energetic finale bursts with life and a sense of well-being. All in all Boult and the LPO give us a splendid performance of this underrated work.

The remainder of the programme consists of pieces that are on a smaller scale. All receive first class performances and, typically, Boult pays each of them – and his listeners - the compliment of treating every work on the disc, no matter how modest in scale, on an equal footing. I particularly warmed to his winning performance of Ireland’s Downland Suite. Though billed as such it consists of just two of the four movements of the 1932 suite for brass band. Ireland arranged these two movements for string orchestra in 1941, the same year in which he made his string orchestra version of The Holy Boy. Incidentally, I wonder how many Christmas pieces down the ages were actually composed on 25 December itself: writing this little carol was Ireland’s Christmas Day diversion in 1913.

Among the Bridge miniatures the standout item is Lament, a deeply felt response to the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania. Short this piece may be, but it’s highly charged too and Boult does it beautifully. He shows a deft hand in the arrangements of Sally in our Alley, Cherry Ripe and Sir Roger de Coverley. It’s this last piece that provides a merry conclusion to this highly enjoyable programme.

I’m delighted to welcome these fine, cultivated performances back to the catalogue. In these recordings Boult shows his mastery of the English repertoire just as surely as in his versions of much bigger symphonic works by the likes of Elgar and Vaughan Williams. This is a rewarding release.

John Quinn

See also review by Rob Barnett





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