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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
The Piano Music

Eric Parkin (piano)
rec. January 1975, Kingsway Hall, London. ADD
3 CDs for the price of 2
First issued on LP as SRCS87-89: Ireland Piano Music Vols. 1-3
LYRITA SRCD.2277 [3 CDs: 56:09 + 52:45 + 51:04]

CD 1 [56:09]
Decorations (The Island Spell; Moonglade; The Scarlet Ceremonies) (1912) [10:15]; The Almond Trees [3:33]; Four Preludes (The Undertone; Obsession; The Holy Boy; Fire of Spring) (1913-15) [11:03]; Prelude in E flat [5:14]; Rhapsody (1915) [7:50]; The Towing-Path [3:40]; Merry Andrew [3:02]; London Pieces (Chelsea Reach; Ragamuffin; Soho Forenoons) (1917-20) [11:32]
CD 2 [52:45]
Summer Evening (1919) [4:15]; Piano Sonata (1918-20) [24:05]; Two Pieces (For Remembrance, Amberley Wild Brooks) (1921) [7:01]; The Darkened Valley (1921) [3:42]; Equinox (1922) [2:22]; On a Birthday Morning (1922) [3:19]; Soliloquy (1925) [3:13]; Two Pieces (April, Bergomask) (1925) [7:48]
CD 3 [51:04]
Sonatina (1926-27) [9:50]; Ballade (1929) [9:26]; Two Pieces (February’s Child, Aubade) (1929, 1930) [7:52]; Month’s Mind (1933) [4:25]; Greenways: Three Lyric Pieces (The Cherry Trees; Cypress; The Palm and May) (1938) [8:01]; Sarnia – An Island Sequence (Le Catioroc; In a May Morning; Song of the Springtides) (1939-40) [20:30]

Eric Parkin was the motor of Lyrita’s Ireland Chamber Music box and here he is shouldering the entire responsibility for the solo piano music The CDs faithfully replicate the three LPs that so valuably and importantly served Ireland’s admirers and that themselves replaced the earlier mono Lyrita set performed by that other great Ireland performer Alan Rowlands. How fitting then that Rowlands’s cycle is to be restored to the catalogue in 2008. To have these two cycles, not entirely identical, in restored sound is a luxury that few could have dreamed of. If we thought that Lyrita would neglect its mono back catalogue we were proved, thankfully, and resoundingly, wrong.

There is just under three hours of music here and everything Parkin plays is illuminated by his sensitive understanding and control. Of course he’s returned to it since on Chandos but this body of Lyrita work catches him at a real peak of perception. He evokes the Debussian glitter and ostinati of The Island Spell with captivating incision; so too the mysterious imprecations of Moonglade, the central panel of Decorations. The Four Preludes, some of the strongest music in the first volume, has a truly hypnotic performance of The Undertone and The Holy Boy which in Parkin’s hands is full of sentiment without ever becoming sentimental. But when Parkin digs into the more panache-driven writing he can be equally convincing – hear the dramatic, indeed convulsing passages of the Rhapsody. Nor is he shy of the occasional levities – the vital wit of Ragamuffin from the London Pieces for instance.

The second volume’s opening with the wistful Summer Evening was a good ploy. Its wistfulness acts as an unexpected prelude to the Sonata, a work closely related to The Forgotten Rite. Here the powerful chordal playing is just as assured as the more pliant right hand tracery. And the unsettled, nagging left hand lines in the central movement are strongly evoked, and indicative of gradations of note placement and understanding from this most understanding of Ireland interpreters. Recordings, including a piano roll, exist of the composer essaying, amongst other things, Amberley Wild Brooks – but how gorgeously Parkin plays this and how languidly too. The flurried raindrops of Equinox attest to his sense of colour and texture. On a Birthday Morning is jauntiness itself and April as verdant as ever.

The final volume opens with the Sonatina – full of glittering concision, singing lyricism, melancholy and truly rhythmically charged brio. Greenways is amongst Ireland’s most charming pieces with the fulsome, laden burnish of The Cherry Trees vying with the fanciful play of The Palm and May for interest. But it’s Sarnia that is the high point of the last volume, maybe even of the set as a whole. The heavy pedal points of Le Catioroc foretell brooding silence and we find in the central tableau, In a May Morning, what I remember Max Harrison once described as Ireland’s "pungent clarity." How apt for this piece. And so with Sarnia’s final piece, Song of the Springtides we return to Debussy, where we began, albeit with a vital admixture of zest, chordal strength and Ireland’s own expressive generosity.

Christopher Palmer’s eleven page notes are reprised for this set and are a laudable summation of Ireland’s rugged, melancholy, harmonically rich, myth-centred and often impressionistic nature pieces, brilliantly realised here.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett


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