The Forgotten Rite
The Overlanders Suite [arr. Mackerras]
A London Overture
Recorded 24 & 25 March 2007 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
Reviewed by: Peter Joelson
Reviewed: September 2009
CD No: HALLÉ
CD HLL 7523
Duration: 68 minutes
The music of John Ireland (1879-1962), composer, pianist, teacher, and organist at St. Luke’s (in Sydney Street, Chelsea) for 22 years, remains highly regarded today, his works for choir still popular in cathedrals and parish churches around the world. Ireland lost both parents early; his mother died in 1892, and the following year his father, 70 when Ireland was born, passed away. By this time he was a pupil at the Royal College of Music, studying piano and organ and, a little later, composition under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford.
The Forgotten Rite dates from 1913 and is the earliest of Ireland’s orchestral tone poems. Inspired by ancient rituals, magic and witchcraft he came across during a trip to Jersey, the god Pan makes an appearance in the form of a flute motif, and the bold impressionism of the piece continues to satisfy. Mai-Dun, written in 1921, inspired by the prehistoric hill-fort of Maiden Castle near Dorchester, divides its length between the fort at peace and the fort at war. John Wilson and the Hallé acquit themselves well in painting the scenes in both pieces, though the more unbuttoned performances recorded by Sir Adrian Boult (Lyrita) and Richard Hickox (Chandos) conjure up a wilder, pagan atmosphere.
Altogether more successful is the performance of A London Overture; right from the start “dilly … Piccadilly” comes in with a perky demeanour, the jaunty playing evoking hansom cabs and market sellers. Written in 1936, the overture is a reworking of the earlier Comedy Overture for brass band, and the wit remains undiminished in the transition. Although Ireland lived in London for a good deal of his life, moving to Sussex in 1953, he visited the Channel Islands many times, moving to Guernsey in 1939. He left in the nick of time in May 1940, so escaping living under Nazi occupation. He was asked by the Ministry of Information to write a patriotic march to be used for propaganda. Epic March, first performed in 1942 is the result. Written in the midst of a very difficult period in London’s history, it it is evocative of its time.
Ireland wrote just the one film score, for “The Overlanders”, an epic wartime tale of cattle being driven across Australia from the Northern Territory to Cairns to avoid their capture in the event of a Japanese invasion. Ernest Irving (1878-1953), music director at Ealing Film Studios, asked Ireland in 1946 to write music for several scenes in the film. Ireland felt there was good material for a suite, and it was Sir Charles Mackerras who arranged it after Ireland’s death. It is a great success, the sections painting vivid pictures in the mind.
At around the same time of the fim, Ireland set to work on his overture Satyricon, this time inspired by character of Giton in Petronius’s “Satyricon”, described as a “recital of lecherous happenings”, a tale written in verse and prose about everyday-life in Rome around 50 AD, a more amusing version of “EastEnders”, it seems. Lots of sex and some violence and a strong homoerotic theme are not obvious in the music, and, though Wilson and the Hallé point the episodes well, Boult was more successful.
The sound is pretty good, though both the Chandos and Lyrita recordings are just that much airier, to the music’s advantage. Nevertheless, this is a fine recording worthy of consideration and a welcome addition to the growing Hallé catalogue.