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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
A Downland Suite for Orchestra (1932, partly revised 1941: orchestrated by Martin Yates, 2017) [17:28] Julius Caesar (1942, complete score, transcribed and edited by Graham Parlett, 2016) [13:10] The Overlanders, complete film score (1946, transcribed and edited by Graham Parlett, 2016) [48:21]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
rec. 2017, RSNO Centre, Glasgow DUTTON EPOCH SACD CDLX7353 [79:51]
There are three Ireland novelties here, heard in première recordings of these particular editions. For that, in the case of the scores of Julius Caesar and The Overlanders, we have Graham Parlett to thank and for this orchestration of A Dowland Suite, conductor Martin Yates has undertaken the honours. But before things become too carried away, a little background is in order, especially if you own Charles Mackerras’ suite arrangement from The Overlanders and Geoffrey Bush’s arrangememt of the Scherzo and Cortège from Julius Caesar. Both were recorded by Richard Hickox on Chandos and Adrian Boult on Lyrita.
Ireland wrote incidental orchestral music to a 1942 BBC production of Julius Caesar with a first rate cast that included Marius Goring, Valentine ‘The Man in Black’ Dyall and Eric Portman. Ireland had ten days to finish the job and doesn’t seem much to have enjoyed the experience. The scoring was for woodwind, brass, piano, percussion and double basses – for this recording four were used and not the two on the broadcast – which, incidentally, was directed by Charles Groves. Bush’s arrangement under the title Scherzo and Cortège is pretty well-known but this recording re-establishes the complete score. Parlett has transcribed and edited it and separate tacking ensures the listener can orientate himself around the various scenes, whether thematic, March or Entr’acte.
Apart from the opening fanfare no other track breaches the two-minute mark. In fact some tracks are barely 30 seconds long. But one gets a better conception of how the music served the text from this restorative work. The fanfares are brusque, confident and taut – in the broadcast they were played by the Royal Artillery Band, Woolwich – and Ireland gives the percussionist his head in the rain-lashed storm scene. Characterisation, by way of solo trumpet or solo flute, ensures differentiation. The only place where Parlett has added to the canvas is in the penultimate Battle Music where he has used Ireland’s pencil sketches, which the composer failed to expand, to complete the scene. Interestingly to make up for Ireland’s omission, the BBC broadcast music from Honegger’s The Tempest instead. Given that so much is fanfare-heavy, I can’t say that this music will shatter or alter one’s perceptions of either Ireland or his music but its expansion gives a better approximation of the music that was performed during the broadcast.
The Overlanders allows Ireland far more opportunity to expand his writing. The complete film score relates to the 1946 Ealing Studios film, which concerned a heroic cattle drive across Australia during the Second World War. Ireland declined the chance to compile a suite but years later Geoffrey Bush produced Two Symphonic Studies and Mackerras a five-movement suite; there was no thematic overlap between them. Ernest Irving, who conducted the soundtrack, wrote most of the orchestration and both Bush and Mackerras somewhat altered this in their works. Here, fortunately, Irving’s original orchestration is restored and the whole score performed with real conviction.
Contrast, colour and variety imbue the score with more than occasional interest. The Scorched Earth scene is exciting as well as poignant with a kind of Trauermusik for strings. Open Country is one of the more fascinating cuts: plangent romanticism with hints of a noble hymnal and echoes of consort music. The dramatic adventures of the river crossing segue athletically and build to powerful tension. A scene called Finding Sailor was not heard in the soundtrack, but only in very stripped back form at the end of the film, but has been valuably restored here. The two longest cuts come toward the end and weigh in at over eight minutes apiece. The Mountain Crossing offers Ireland’s music at its most vivid and arresting with strong fugato, and VW-like brass. The Water Stampede is the dramatic climax of the film, with some frantic declamation and a rather Elgarian march to end before the reprise of the theme.
As if this wasn’t enough there is A Downland Suite. Originally written for brass, Ireland subsequently arranged the inner two movements (only) for string orchestra. Geoffrey Bush completed the job in 1978. At the invitation of the John Ireland Charitable Trust Yates orchestrated the work for symphony orchestra in 2017 and it’s this that we hear. He based his work on the original brass band score, not on the subsequent orchestrations by Ireland and Bush, and the result is a charming addition. It will hardly supplant the earlier arrangements, and isn’t intended to, but offers a valid alternative for performance by a symphonic orchestra.
I’m strongly indebted to the excellent notes by Parlett and Yates. The SACD sound captures the scores with immediacy and the RSNO performs with creditable enthusiasm under Yates’s baton. The main event in this triple bill is The Overlanders but you will enjoy the second feature and the suite.
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