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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Tritons, symphonic prelude (c.1905) [10:29]
The Forgotten Rite, prelude (1913) [7:07]
Mai-Dun, symphonic rhapsody (1920-21) [11:23]
A London Overture (1936) [11:57]
Epic March (1942) [8:12]
Themes from Julius Caesar (arr. Geoffrey Bush) (Scherzo; Cortège) (1942) [6:45]
The Overlanders, suite (ed. Charles Mackerras) (Scorched Earth; Mary & Sailor; Open Country; The Brumbies; Night Stampede) (1946-47) [20:07]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. 1960s. ADD
recordings originally made in association with John Ireland Trust
LYRITA SRCD 240 [76:04]


This CD usefully brings together a clutch of Ireland orchestral works that Sir Adrian recorded for Lyrita in the 1960s. Lyrita are surprisingly coy about recording dates but they have no need to be: the recorded sound – and the performances - sound as fresh as ever on this, their first CD issue.

As Rob Barnett justly observes in his review the contents of this CD are largely surpassed in quality by the music included on the companion disc SRCD 241 but, despite that small caveat, there’s much to enjoy and admire here.

I relished in particular Boult’s account of the wartime Epic March. Here’s an offering right in the tradition of Pomp and Circumstance and Crown Imperial. In fact, the noble and confident trio tune has Walton-esque echoes and is definitely none the worse for that. Boult’s performance has real dash.

He’s equally successful in The Forgotten Rite. Here he distils the atmosphere and mystery superbly. The conductor’s control is admirable as he builds the piece from its hushed opening to the powerful climax and then manages the music back down again to a quiet close. Mai-Dun, in Julian Herbage’s words, "epitomises the strenuous life and struggles of a primitive community." Boult’s reading has grip and drama. The more lyrical central section is convincingly shaped with some ripe playing to savour from the LPO.

A London Overture is a nicely pointed, affectionate tribute to the city in which Ireland lived for many years. Boult plays it with wit and geniality but also with the requisite amount of bite. Despite the extra colours of the full orchestral version I must confess to a preference for the piece in its original brass band incarnation as A Comedy Overture (1934). However, it’s a very fine piece in the orchestral version too and Boult’s performance is an excellent one.

Tritons is an early, unpublished work. However, as composer Geoffrey Bush, Ireland’s one-time pupil and longstanding friend, points out in a note, Ireland evidently thought enough of the music to recycle much of it in 1944 as A Maritime Overture for military band. Bush draws attention to the influence of Ireland’s teacher, Stanford. The music may not be among Ireland’s most important or characteristic but it’s certainly not short on confidence.

Geoffrey Bush has assembled the Julius Caesar music that is played here in what, I suspect, was its first recording. This performance must have been set down in or after 1970 for Bush writes that he first looked at the scraps of music that Ireland had left in January 1970. The music had been written as incidental music for a BBC radio production of Shakespeare’s play in 1942. I’ve deliberately used the word "scraps" since Bush tells us that the material consisted of eighteen fragments, none of which was more than three lines long. It seems to me that he’s done a first rate rescue job – one would be unaware of the fragmentary nature of the original material simply from listening. The music is scored, rather unusually, for woodwind, brass, double basses and percussion. I particularly liked the grave Cortège.

To finish Boult offers some film music in the shape of a four-movement suite compiled by Sir Charles Mackerras from Ireland’s incidental music for the 1947 film, The Overlanders. The suite includes a vigorous March, which was the film’s title music and culminates with an exciting illustration of a nighttime stampede.

Throughout the programme Boult conducts with flair and imagination and he gets excellent playing from the LPO. The recorded sound wears its years very lightly indeed and presents the orchestra most truthfully – I suspect the venue may have been London’s Kingsway Hall. The notes, by three different writers, are presumably assembled from the original LP issues: all are well informed and very readable. At the time they were first released these Boult recordings and their companions on two other Lyrita CDs, represented the first serious survey of Ireland’s orchestral music. Though subsequent recordings have appeared from other labels and other conductors these performances are still required listening for all Ireland enthusiasts and their appearance at last on CD is greatly to be welcomed.

John Quinn

See also review by Rob Barnett



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