Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trios: No. 2;
Phantasie Trio in a.
The Holy Boy
Gould Pn Tr;
Lucy Gould (vn);
Benjamin Frith (pn)
NAXOS 8.570507 (60:34)
Naxos is doing good by John Ireland, but in the doing, they’re also engaging in some deft duplication. This is a follow-on to 8.570550, reviewed in 32:6. That disc contained
The Holy Boy
, a simple Christmas piece Ireland wrote in 1913, in a transcription for clarinet and piano of a transcription for viola and piano that was twice removed from its original version for piano solo. On the present release, we have it once again, this time in a transcription for violin and piano thought to be, but not verifiably so, by the composer himself. The Piano Trio No. 3 may also strike a note of familiarity to those who purchased the previous Naxos CD, for it contains material Ireland cannibalized from the reconstructed Clarinet Trio in D Major heard on that album.
Best known of Ireland’s chamber works is the
Phantasie Trio in A Minor
that took second place in a composition competition in 1905. A still-listed recording (I’m fairly certain there used to be more recordings of the piece than are currently listed) is with an ensemble calling itself Trio Poseidon, reviewed in 30:5. I found that performance preferable to the one with Lydia Mordkovitch on Chandos, but overall I felt the young players still needed a bit more polishing before they were ready for prime time. In the Gould Piano Trio (Lucy Gould, violin; Alice Neary, cello; and Benjamin Frith, piano) we have three seasoned performers with lots of international concertizing and a residency at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester under their belts. The spirit of Brahms haunts the
’s pages, but its second subject, beginning at 3:18, has about it a characteristically English stride. The piece is in a single continuous movement lasting about 11 and a half minutes. The Piano Trio No. 2, also in one movement, doesn’t last much longer, just under 13 minutes. Completed in 1917, it is Ireland’s “war” work, if you will. In turns sullen and dyspeptic, the piece is a study in contrasting moods that are not so much variations as they are metamorphoses of the music’s first 18 bars. This is a far cry from Elgar’s war-years works dating from around the same time.
The Piano Trio No. 3, also in E Major, was completed in 1938, but recalls and reworks material, as noted above, from an aborted clarinet trio Ireland had begun a number of years earlier. The work abandons the continuous single-movement structure of the
and the Second Trio, adopting instead a classical four-movement layout. It is also twice the length of its predecessors. The ghost of Brahms is gone now. The idiom is unmistakably modernist English, with William Walton, to whom Ireland dedicated his score, being prominent among its influences.
The Berceuse, Cavatina, and Bagatelle, written in 1902, 1904, and 1911 respectively, as described by note author Bruce Phillips, are “charming Edwardian salon pieces for violin and piano.” I would describe them as refined and nostalgic without being overly sentimental, the very model of upper-crust British emotional expression tempered by restraint.
The Holy Boy
, as previously noted, was a Christmas Day meditation that was later to be included as the third in a set of four preludes published in 1918.
All of the pieces on this disc have been recorded before, but of the recordings I’ve heard, none is quite as satisfying performance-wise as is this new Naxos release. For programming, I’d probably prefer the ASV disc with the Holywell Ensemble for its inclusion of Ireland’s Sextet for Clarinet, Horn, and String Quartet, along with the
and the two piano trios. But that’s only because I already have
The Holy Boy
in its clarinet version on the aforementioned previous Naxos release, and one recording of it, for me, is quite enough. Nor do the three salon trifles do much for me. But again, performances by the Gould Trio and the Naxos recording are exemplary. Ireland has yet to gain the foothold of the somewhat earlier Irish-born Charles Stanford, but there is much in Ireland’s music to admire. Recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
The Holy Boy by John Ireland
Lucy Gould (Violin),
Benjamin Frith (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1913/1938; England
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