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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
The Songs
CD 1
Songs of a Wayfarer; When Lights go rolling round the sky; Hope the Hornblower; Sea Fever; Marigold; Five Poems by Thomas Hardy; Three Songs; We’ll to the Woods no more
CD 2
Two Songs; Songs Sacred & Profane; Five XVIth Century Songs; Blow out you Bugles; If there were Dreams to sell; I have twelve Oxen; Spring Sorrow; The Bells of San Marie; The Journey;
The merry month of May; Vagabond; When I am dead my dearest; Santa Chiara; Great Things; If we must part; Tutto e sciolto
CD 3
Songs for Tenor: The Heart’s desire; The sacred flame; Remember; Hawthorne Time; The East Riding; Love is a sickness full of woes; The Land of Lost Content; Two Songs
Songs for Contralto: The three Ravens; Bed in Summer; Mother & Child; Earth’s Call; Three Arthur Symons Songs; What art thou thinking of?; Three Thomas Hardy Songs
Benjamin Luxon (baritone) (CD1; CD2); John Mitchinson (tenor) (CD3); Alfreda Hodgson (contralto) (CD3); Alan Rowlands (piano)
rec. Smith Square, London August 1972, July 1973, November 1973 (CD1; CD2); August 1978 (CD3). ADD
Full song texts in English only
LYRITA SRCD.2261 [3 CDs: 61:26 + 58:08 + 64:10]

This Lyrita set is the sequel to their chamber music box issued in June 2007 and the pathfinder to the piano music (Parkin) box due out in September 2007.
Each box is double width - necessitated by the three CDs and in this case by two booklets. One sets out the concise preface by Geoffrey Bush, Musical Adviser to the John Ireland Trust and the much more extensive song essay is provided by William Mann. The other provides the full texts to the 79 songs. By the way there are eighty tracks; the disparity is explained by the fact that the third of the Housman sequence We'll To the Woods No More is a piano solo with its Ireland-typical title, Spring Will Not Wait.
Eric Parkin might well have seemed the lynchpin for the whole Lyrita-Ireland project but in this case the pianist is Alan Rowlands whose mono cycle of the Ireland piano music on Lyrita RCS discs will be reissued in a CD set in 2008.
Ireland's artistry as a songwriter has never been presented with such mastery. Rowlands is attentive and idiomatic at every turn. He sensitively colours, accentuates and intensifies. Listen to his unassertive advocacy in the last of the Hardy Poems, Dear, Think Not that they will forget you.
I had heard only one of the original LPs and was delighted with the singing of Benjamin Luxon whose voice was in good heart at the time of the sessions. Thankfully he was free of the insecure vibrato that later afflicted him. Just as well - as two of the three CDs are allocated to him. On this point we are assured that all the songs are sung by the voice for which they were written apart from the most famous, Sea Fever, which was originally for tenor. Ireland later professed a strong preference for it to be taken by a baritone and so Luxon has it here.
The songs date from the 1910s to the late 1930s. Their range is wide indeed. There are darkly ruminative ones such as The One Hope (to words by D.G. Rossetti). Then again there are magnificently ringing ballads such as When Lights Go rolling Round the Sky and Sea Fever. Hope the Hornblower, to words by Newbolt, is bound to wake recollections of Ireland's teacher Stanford in The Songs of the Sea. Indeed it has that sort of redolence … and that is by no means the end.
Sea Fever is superbly done with such recreative power that one can visualise the scenes conjured and live the experience. The songwriter's art and the song-singer’s art is here at its highest tilt.
Ireland's Housman is heard first in the subdued subtle cycle We'll to the Woods No More. The second song In Boyhood has a typically morose and irresistible sway. Interestingly Ireland ended that cycle with a piece for piano alone under the title of another Housman poem Spring will not wait. It is in Ireland’s typically elusive, wanderingly ambivalent tonal palette.
The Arthur Symons song The Tryst is a counterpart to all those hooded-eye mélodies from Duparc and Fauré.
Then come the cycle Songs Sacred and Profane of which Hymn for a Child relates the story of the child Christ in the temple. It is in a simple sing-song which is lent savour by the unconventional piano part. Of greater complexity is the mournful love song My Fair, again to words by Alice Meynell. The only song from this cycle to achieve any solo celebrity is the much set The Salley Gardens. Ireland's typically gentle muse demands much in the way of high quiet notes from the singer and Luxon meets the challenge in triumph head-on. Yet more variety comes with the recruiting-song swing of The Soldier’s Return. In The final song The Scapegoat the goat capers cheerfully - a strangely satirical effect.
The Five Sixteenth Century Songs take us into verse favoured by Warlock and Gurney. Ireland finds a troubadour vein in the honeyed All in a Garden Green - a setting of Thomas Howell.
Blow Out You Bugles to words by Rupert Brooke carries a message difficult to grasp now: youth enriched by death. The message might have had some solace during and after the Great War but we now either reject those words or are bound to feel discomfort.
I have twelve Oxen with its twee refrain ‘Sawest not you mine Oxen, you little pretty boy?’ recalls Britten who was briefly an Ireland pupil.
The Bells of San Marie (setting words by Masefield), with its ballad rocking swing, is another palpable hit. It is though gentle without the flash and clamour of When Lights Go Rolling Round the Sky.
Christina Rossetti's When I am Dead My Dearest is mournfully remorseful and its reticent refrain registers with sentimental force: “And if thou wilt, remember / and if thou wilt, forget.”
Santa Chiara - another Arthur Symons setting - is a grand ballad, noble and roundedly victorious. It prepares the ground for a masterly song, Great Things which is imaginatively spun and twisted by Luxon and Rowlands. Listen to how Luxon characterises the words “A figure flits like one a-wing /Out from the nearest tree.”
In the 1930s various composers were invited to contribute a single Joyce setting to a luxury publication entitled The Joyce Book. Tutto e sciolto was Ireland's offering in which his artistry is there in concentrated form. Others are by Moeran, Bax and C.W. Orr.
The final disc has two groups of songs - one each for tenor and for alto. In John Mitchinson the fault avoided by Luxon is courted. Mitchinson, at this stage in his singing career, had too much unsteadiness in his vocal production. For anything at all intense or sustained an annoying beat intrudes. Unusual for Lyrita to err in these things although there is another famous instance with John Carol Case in Finzi’s Shakespeare Songs. Intrinsically Mitchinson’s voice is attractive and his intelligence imbues the words with meaning but that beat! His voice has the same essential nasality that we also hear in Robert Tear but it takes on a 'Neddy Seagoon' persona when pressed high. Still he makes a good job on the words “O tarnish late on Wenlock Edge” in Hawthorne Time where the vibrato seems to be in transient remission. It's a fine song but does not match the Gurney setting.
Ireland's most famous cycle is the Housman sequence The Land of Lost Content. Mitchinson manages better in the quick songs Goal and Wicket and The encounter. There is a delightful honeyed caress and kindness in the song Epilogue with its words “You smile upon your friend today”.
If there are problems with Mitchinson they do not apply to Alfreda Hodgson whose pure voice is nothing short of wonderful; fully the match for Luxon.
Hodgson confronts a wild wood of meaning in Harold Monro's poem Earth's Call. Of the Three Arthur Symons Songs the most memorable is The Rat with its words “Pain Gnaws at the Heart like a Rat.”
She turns the lachrymose sentimentality of Mother and Child - a Rossetti cycle - into sheer gold, touching time after time with her evident sincerity. Her technical command is splendid leaving the singer to concentrate on the tricky sentimentality of the words. The sickly nature of these childhood Rossetti settings return in the isolated song What are thou thinking of with the child challenging the mother as to whether she would be as glad as he is to go to heaven now.
We return to stronger poetry in the Three Poems by Thomas Hardy. It is difficult to hear Summer Schemes without thinking of Finzi's setting – still, this one grows on you. Weathers is the final song in the trilogy and the final one on the disc and set: “And rooks in families homeward go .... And so do I.”
It’s a while since I have heard Hyperion’s 2CD set but it would have had stiff competition from this one and I am assuming that the Lyrita set includes more songs.
Ireland's artistry as a songwriter has never been presented with such mastery.
Rob Barnett

Reviews of other Lyrita releases of John Ireland
SRCD.240 Ireland Tritons/The Forgotten Rite
SRCD.241 Ireland Legend/Overture Satyricon
SRCD.242 Boult conducts Bridge and Ireland
SRCD.2271 Ireland Chamber music

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