Notes and Editorial Reviews
This alluringly priced set is effectively the CD equivalent of three vinyl discs issued by Lyrita Recorded Edition 1971-76. For many years those black discs were in most cases the only representation of these works in the catalogue. They were at premium price – Lyrita was always something of a luxury item in those days – and this limited their distribution although many will recall these recordings from BBC broadcasts.
The original Ireland LPs were: SRCS-59 Sextet for Horn, Clarinet and String Quartet; Cello Sonata; Fantasy for Clarinet and Piano / Melos Ensemble, Navarra (cello), De Peyer (clarinet), Parkin (piano) SRCS-64 Violin Sonatas No. 1; No. 2 / Neaman (violin); Parkin (piano) SRCS-98 Phantasie Trio in A Minor; Trio No. 2 and No. 3 in E Minor / Neaman (violin), Webber (cello), Parkin (piano)
By the autumn of 2007 the Lyrita catalogue will have three of these Ireland sets, each of three discs and each disc following the individual LPs issued by the company in the 1970s. In addition to this set there will be the Ireland songs box on SRCD.2261 and the solo piano by Eric Parkin on SRCD.2277.
The full-throatedly romantic and impassioned Phantasie Trio echoes with shrapnel from Dvo?ák and Brahms. It is extremely enjoyable in the hands of this celebrity trio. Do not expect Ireland’s subtle impressionism just yet though. This is a work to be grouped with the Stanfordian Sextet on disc 2. The similarly single-movement Trio No. 2 is from 1917. That was the same year in which he completed his great Second Violin Sonata and revised the First Sonata. The Great War had --shaken the old rhapsodic confidence but not so much that Ireland’s gift for the gorgeously triumphant was throttled off. The Third Trio’s premiere dated from 1938 with Grinke, Hooton and the composer. In fact it had been gathering dust for more than two decades. The third movement with its cobweb mistiness is most impressive with wonderfully sustained and sensitive playing from Julian Lloyd Webber and Yfrah Neaman. Eric Parkin’s trilling arpeggio figures at 4:12 are hardy less entrancing. In its urgently clamorous shivering finale the influence of Ravel can be discerned but the rocking and sing-song impressionism is distinctive Ireland through and through.
Next comes a disc of the oldest of those Lyrita LPs. Stanford lilts and cheers through the pages of the vibrant and substantial four movement Sextet. The clarinet is always to the fore. This is no surprise as it appears to have been influenced by the Brahms clarinet quintet and the playing of Richard Mühlfeld. The horn adds a welcome bloom, rattle and, in the finale, an impudent strut. It’s not mature Ireland but then neither are his two string quartets which now rate two recordings (Naxos and ASV) as does this Sextet. With the piercingly poignant Cello Sonata there is no mistaking the music’s maturity. Do not miss this version and the wonderfully enchanted second movement. Ireland had a strong sense of other worlds in the dark shadows of forest, rockface and downland hollow; that old and dangerous hidden England that so engaged Arthur Machen and that has nothing to do with smocks and rusticity. Florence Hooton, in the 1930s a champion of the Bax Cello Concerto and the Bridge Concerto Elegiaco, premiered the Sonata with the composer while she was still in her teens. The secret and rarely glimpsed countryside can be sensed in the mellifluous Clarinet Sonata. Despite the damage of time enthusiasts should however listen to the recording of this Sonata made by the composer and the dedicatee. You can find it on Symposium 1259.
Parkin nicely catches the shivering motion of the piano at the very start of the First Violin Sonata. Despite its date it sounds much more like mature Ireland. This may or may not be down to Ireland having revised it in 1917 – the year of the Second Sonata and Second Piano Trio. Neaman’s slender piercingly acidic tone will not please everyone but the flaring passion and repose of Ireland’s writing obviously lies close to his heart. For the most part the composer shows that he had shaken off the Brahmsian manner and found something that was truly his own. So far as the Second Sonata is concerned both players faithfully convey Ireland’s hooded and haunted mezzotint world. This can be heard to best effect in the middle movement where elements of funeral march, lullaby and elegy triumphantly combine in one long sustained piece of noble oratory. The finale is quite bardic, chilly and Baxian before a hectic-optimistic energy and mercurial songfulness crowns this outstanding work.
Neaman’s violin tone throughout is refined and silky. I have tapes of his broadcasts of the Cooke, Lipkin, Fricker, Moeran, Grace Williams and Skalkottas violin concertos and that is consistent – part of his aural signature. His sound was always slender and searching rather than ripe or voluptuous. If you want something with fruitier overtones than there’s the two CD Ireland set on Chandos where the violinist is Lydia Mordkovitch or Andrew Davis’s violin sonatas on Vienna Modern Masters. There are other versions of every work here but no other set offers what amounts to the key Ireland all in one place in performances of such persuasive authority and in very good sound. The closest ‘competitor’ is the 2CD Chandos CHAN9377/78 in which the sound is digital and a shade richer however the coverage of that set is not as wide as what is on offer here. Seekers after the fully authentic voice will need to track down the disc of historic recordings of the Ireland violin sonatas on Dutton.
This Lyrita set is an extremely valuable and pleasing collection which surely establishes the tone for Lyrita’s similar song and piano solo sets. The whole is completed by authoritative notes from Eric Parkin, Frederick Grinke and Thea King which goes to show the respect and affection in which Lyrita’s Richard Itter is held by musicians.
This is an extremely valuable and pleasing set. It makes for vital and deeply rewarding listening in the twentieth century’s best tonal lyrical-impressionistic vein.
-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International