Notes and Editorial Reviews
Clarinet Trio in D
The Holy Boy.
Sextet for Clarinet, Horn, and Strings
Robert Plane (cl); Alice Neary (vc);
Sophia Rahman (pn);
David Pyatt (hn);
class="ARIAL12"> Maggini Qrt
NAXOS 8.570550 (66:25)
Early on, John Ireland (1879–1962), who studied under Stanford at the Royal College of Music, was most heavily influenced by Brahms and Elgar. And it is to Brahms that Ireland’s youthful 1898 Sextet for Clarinet, Horn, and String Quartet is beholden. If you don’t know this beautiful, sun-splashed work, here is your chance to make its acquaintance. Bruce Phillips’s booklet note notwithstanding, believe me when I tell you that the obvious model, right down to its oscillating strings a measure or two into it, is not one or the other of Brahms’s two string sextets or his clarinet quintet, but rather his G-Major String Quintet, op. 111. With the quintet, Ireland’s sextet not only shares many of the same melodic contours and rhythmic and harmonic characteristics, but also an engaging cheerfulness and sense of contentment that one would have to go all the way back to Brahms’s early serenades to find in the German composer’s music. The addition of a clarinet and horn to the standard string quartet makes for an unusual combination, possibly even one of a kind, though I wouldn’t bet our music editor’s life on it. It’s a mix, however, that works beautifully. Only two other recordings are currently listed: one with the Melos Ensemble of London is only available in a three-disc set, and the other with the Holywell Ensemble on ASV, which I have at hand for comparison, is not as spiritedly played or as balanced and blended in ensemble as this new version is with Robert Plane, David Pyatt, and the Maggini Quartet.
Ireland’s next chamber work featuring clarinet, the Trio in D Major, poses a messy situation. The composer completed it in 1913, but withdrew it after a couple of performances, reworking it and substituting a violin for the clarinet. Unhappy with this version as well, Ireland withdrew it, too, later cannibalizing some of its material for his Piano Trio No. 3. Still hoping to salvage the original work, he made additional revisions, including a new slow movement as late as 1938; but even then he was dissatisfied and ended up leaving the work unfinished. The performing edition here is a reconstruction made by Canadian clarinetist Stephen Fox. More details are furnished in the booklet note. This, to my knowledge, is its only recording.
By this time, Ireland had outgrown his Brahms phase. The trio has become Frenchified by a nod, not so much to either Debussy or Ravel, but to the Schola Cantorum circle of d’Indy acolytes, such as Dukas and Roussel. It’s an interesting work, but it may take a few hearings for it to grow on you.
for clarinet and piano, written in 1943, comes from a period during which Ireland was self-exiled in Guernsey, having fled ahead of the German invasion in 1940. The French frills of the trio are now smoothed out and pleated, the mood of the piece seeming to conjure a distant reflection of Elgar’s sorrowful atmospherics in response to another long ago war. The
is a very beautiful piece colored contemplative and sad, with contrasting flashes that could only have come from the world of ragtime and jazz. Listen, for example, beginning at 11:25. Ireland was obviously familiar with the jazz-derived style of Stravinsky.
Lasting just under three minutes,
The Holy Boy
dates back to 1913. It’s a simple piano prelude that has enjoyed great popularity over the years in versions for different instruments. The one heard here is a transcription for clarinet by Robert Plane of a transcription for viola by Lionel Tertis.
This is another winning entry in Naxos’s ongoing commitment to the music of John Ireland. Performances are ideal and recording, as always with this label, excellent. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
The Holy Boy by John Ireland
Robert Plane (Clarinet),
Sophia Rahman (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1913/1938; England
Featured Sound Samples
Clarinet Trio: II. Scherzo
Sextet: I. Allegro non troppo
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