Lyrita – John Ireland

0 of 5 stars

Legend for piano and orchestra
Overture: Satyricon
Piano Concerto
These Things Shall Be
Two Symphonic Studies [arr. Geoffrey Bush]

Eric Parkin (piano)

John Carol Case (baritone)

London Philharmonic Choir

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Adrian Boult

Recording dates and locations not advised in Lyrita’s annotation; copyright dates are 1966, 1968 & 1971

Reviewed by: David Wordsworth

Reviewed: April 2007
Duration: 77 minutes

Having waited for years for the re-release of the Lyrita catalogue, it is somewhat ironic that the recordings appear again when most of the repertoire has been made available, sometimes in several versions, by other companies in the intervening years. On the other hand, to have this distinguished catalogue back in circulation with some great music performed by some of the artists most closely associated with it makes the ‘return of Lyrita’ more than worthwhile.

With regard to the present disc, although a huge admirer of the music of John Ireland (1879-1962), I’m afraid I can’t really get too excited about much of the music on offer here. For the present writer Ireland is much more at home in chamber and piano music, and song; the bigger canvases sound to be a struggle, even under Sir Adrian Boult’s direction. That is definitely the case with the oratorio “These Things Shall Be”, which sets a toe-curling pseudo ‘hammer and sickle’ text by John Addington Symonds (1840-93) that inspired a lumpy, over-long setting by a composer that seemed to be on auto-pilot at the time. But who can blame Ireland for struggling to set a verse that runs “Nation with nation, land with land / Inarmed shall live as comrades free / In every brain and heart shall throb / The pulse of one fraternity” – what hogwash! It may well have been of its time, but if it was, it shouldn’t have been! The London Philharmonic Choir struggles in a way that wouldn’t get the singers near a recording studio today and baritone soloist John Carol Case is strained and appears ill at ease. Those wishing to have a recording of this piece should perhaps seek out the more recent Chandos version, which at least has the London Symphony Chorus on full throttle.

Satyricon sounds like a poor relation of Walton’s Scapino, but without the younger composer’s mastery of the orchestra and ready wit, while the Two Studies, rescued by Geoffrey Bush from the music Ireland wrote for the film “The Overlanders” (completed in 1947) do their thing but to no great effect.

Of the works for piano and orchestra, Legend, although not the best piece to open the disc (the whole running order is a mystery, anyway) at least holds the attention. At last with the Piano Concerto we get an idea of what a fine composer Ireland was. The booklet note that accompanies the CD suggest that Artur Rubinstein played this work, which I didn’t know – that must have been something to hear. It is difficult to understand why this piece gets only very occasional performances as it has all the qualities of popular success. Eric Parkin studied the work with the composer and gives a beautifully reflective account of the slow movement, whilst having the jazzy flair to make the finale the winner it is.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the rest of the music but this release is worth seeking out for the Piano Concerto.

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