Lyrita – John Ireland: The Complete Piano Music

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Ireland
Decorations [The Island Spell; Moon-glade; The Scarlet Ceremonies]
The Almond Trees
Four Preludes [The Undertone; Obsession; The Holy Boy; Fire of Spring]
Prelude in E flat
Rhapsody
The Towing-Path
Merry Andrew
London Pieces [Chelsea Reach; Ragamuffin; Soho Forenoons]
Summer Evening
Piano Sonata
Two Pieces [For Remembrance; Amberley Wild Brooks]
The Darkened Valley
Equinox
On A Birthday Morning
Soliloquy
Two Pieces [April; Bergomask]
Sonatina
Ballade
Two Pieces [February’s Child; Aubade]
Month’s Mind
Greenways – Three Lyric Pieces [The Cherry Trees; Cypress; The Palm and May]
Sarnia – An Island Sequence [Le Catioroc; In a May Morning; Song of the Springtides]

Eric Parkin (piano)

Recorded January 1975 in Kingsway Hall, London


Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: December 2007
CD No: LYRITA
SRCD.2277 (3 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 52 minutes

Eric Parkin’s first cycle of John Ireland’s piano music dates from 1975, its digital sequel recorded for Chandos in the early 1990s. It appears to be one of Parkin’s very first contributions to the recorded legacy of British solo piano music from the 20th-century, for since then the pianist has valuably championed the works of Moeran, Bax, Blezard and Mayerl.

The majority of his piano music finds Ireland (1879-1962) composing on a smaller scale, setting pictures and scenes within five-minute stretches that Parkin brings forward effortlessly. When Ireland does extend his formal writing, however, he is never found wanting – and nor is the pianist. The substantial Piano Sonata (1918-20) is particularly probing in its slow movement, and Parkin manages to capture the uncertainty of the first movement, where Ireland makes the music deliberately a little unsure of itself.

The Ballade works in a similar way, Parkin elegantly spinning the left-hand theme from the outside before reaching an impressive climax towards the end. The Sonatina, a compact work, nonetheless feels like an extended single movement, the ominous rumblings of the ‘Quasi lento’ finding respite in the lilting subject of the finale.

John Ireland (1879-1962) in 1929Perhaps most enjoyable of all is the substantial three-movement suite Sarnia (the Latin word for Guernsey), begun by Ireland in 1940 on his visit to the Channel Island before he was speeded away in the face of a German attack. The first movement, ‘Le Catioroc’, begins in a Ravelian haze, with a memorable melody that Parkin unties beautifully. The final ‘Song of the Springtides’, meanwhile, is brightly voiced and upward looking, Parkin at ease with the tricky glissandos and trills. Ravel is an influence noted elsewhere, in ‘The Island Spell’ movement of the attractive Decorations, where the pianist brings clarity to the counterpoint.

As in his recordings of the composers mentioned earlier, Parkin brings rare intimacy to the music; his interpretations often felt as solitary asides to the listener. This is clearly realised in the introverted thoughts of the Soliloquy or the rather more obvious anguish of the late E flat Prelude.

Of the descriptive pieces it is to Ireland’s credit that each has its own personality, and manages to effectively represent its title, even though in some cases the titles were added afterwards. Chelsea Reach is therefore appropriately regal, while Merry Andrew finishes with a flourish. The Towing-Path, The Darkened Valley and The Cherry Trees all suggest a composer who loved the outdoors.

Where Parkin really succeeds is in his successful blend of light and shade. Not all these pieces are comfortable works, and some have a darker hue that comes near to the surface. Yet each is upward looking in its own way, and Parkin captures that in Rhapsody and Ballade in particular.

The joy of this Lyrita collection is that the listener can choose to dip-in to the attractive shorter pieces or tackle the meatier works of traditional form. In Eric Parkin they will find their ideal guide, for he excels in both, presenting a strong case for John Ireland as one of the finest composers for the piano.

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