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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
The Piano Music

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 (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]

The piano was central to Ireland's creativity and in this set we hear one of the composer's prime interpreters, Eric Parkin, eliciting subtlety and poetry.

Decorations is a suite with the faery chiming of Island Spell, the Pierrot calm of Moonglade and the energy-flinging conflagration of Scarlet Ceremonies. The simplicity of The Holy Boy comes as a relief after the curdled tension of Undertone and Obsession. Prelude in E flat is a later work than the Four Preludes and its bell-slow progressions seem always to turn away from triumph. Both Rhapsody and Ballade have a defiant jaw-set and an aggression that, among his orchestral works, makes me think more of Mai-Dun than The Forgotten Rite. Merry Andrew, by contrast, is playful in the manner of similar pieces by Moeran and Bax. The London Pieces are character vignettes and Summer Evening, the first item on CD2, is less adventurous than the London Pieces. The Sonata is in three movements and is instinct with the vigour and the supernatural atmosphere of Chanctonbury Ring to which Ireland had been introduced by the composer Christopher a Becket Williams. This time the second and third movements do indeed reek of the strange bleached and misty poetry of The Forgotten Rite. The glum yet expectant carillon of the opening of the third movement is typical - a green invocation. Amberley Wild Brooks, a place not that far from Chanctonbury and Pulborough is a springtime delight of a tone poem. Equinox has some of the dynamism of Scarlet Ceremonies and The Fire of Spring. There are moments when it seems to look to the more demonstrative Rachmaninov Preludes. The Sonatina starts CD 3. Its central quasi lento is amongst the most bleak creations in British music. The outer movement, especially the finale with its splintery equinoctial showers and storms, provides a welcome contrast. Ballade and Legend for piano and orchestra are brothers under the skin. There is about these works a granitic hardness and a joy in bass sonority that is trance-like in its concentration; certainly so in Parkin's hands in the 1970s. February's Child is back to the blissful joy of Amberley and Merry Andrew. Month's Mind speaks of a longing or desire for the unattainable - for communion with the dead. Greenways starts with The Cherry Tree which links with Housman and continues through Shakespeare's sad Cypresses - a mood into which Ireland fell with little encouragement - potently expressive writing. The Palm and the May looks to celebration as evoked by Nash. Finally we come to the extended 20 minute suite, Sarnia. The first of the three pieces is Le Catioroc. This is music of Machen's long heavy silence. In a May Morning is not quite the sunlit romp that is Amberley Wild Brooks but through its evident calmness it shares the contented joy of that piece. Its marine Swinburnian swell and flight are joyously put across by Parkin.

John Lenehan (Naxos) and Daniel Adni (EMI) have all essayed Ireland discs but none of theirs are as consistently successful as this. I have not heard the Parkin remakes on Chandos (Chandos CHAN 9056 9140, 9250). It also remains to be seen how this Lyrita set will compare with the set to be issued later next year: the 1960s monos of Ireland by Alan Rowlands which include works such as Ballad of London Nights not offered in Parkin’s Lyrita set.

The masterly notes by Christopher Palmer combine factual precision with sensitive literary and biographical context.

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
SRCD.2261 Ireland Songs

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