Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, November 2009

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…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.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, August 2009

The Gould Piano Trio is an outstanding ensemble that I have seen perform live several times. In recital I have been impressed by the Gould’s consistently high level of performance and have generally found their standard of music-making exceptional…this assured playing makes a strong and impressively communicative case for Ireland’s music. What’s more it is very naturally recorded with a splendid balance. Bruce Phillips provides top-drawer booklet notes…This was a pleasure to review and will enhance any record collection.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, August 2009

Polished and instinctive readings of Ireland’s enormously appealing trios

Naxos really are doing John Ireland proud at the moment. Hard on the heels of the final instalment in John Lenehan’s piano music series (8.570461) and the clarinet-led chamber anthology with Robert Plane and colleagues (8.570550) comes this stylish new recording of the composer’s three piano trios. Actually, anyone who has already snapped up the latter disc will quickly discover that Ireland profitably plundered material from the Clarinet Trio in D (1912–13) for the last of his piano trios. Completed in 1938 and dedicated to Walton, this is one of Ireland’s most effortlessly fluent and approachable works, crammed full of memorable invention and displaying a comprehensive understanding of the medium.

The Gould Piano Trio lend it exquisitely refined, infectiously eager advocacy…and it is preceded by similarly lithe and luminous accounts of the endearing Phantasie Trio and magnificent Second Trio from 1917—a much darker, impassioned wartime creation (you can almost visualise the troops’ weary trudge in the Allegro giusto some three minutes in) and close sibling to the superb Second Violin Sonata from just a few months previously (the piece that secured the composer’s reputation overnight).

Fine-spun readings by Lucy Gould and Benjamin Frith of four charming miniatures for violin and piano (finishing with the seemingly indestructible The Holy Boy) push the playing time up to just over the hour mark. Admirable production values (Michael Ponder, working in Potion Hall) and booklet-notes (Bruce Phillips, Chairman of the John Ireland Trust) further boost the appeal of a thoroughly desirable release.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, July 2009


Following their recent outstanding release of chamber music by British composer John Ireland (1879–1962) [8.570550], Naxos now gives us another containing his three extant piano trios as well as four occasional pieces for violin and piano. The composer’s foray into the piano trio genre was somewhat problematic when you consider his first effort of 1897 was discarded and subsequently lost. Not only that, but the last trio is in part a reworking of one for clarinet, cello and piano, which he withdrew just after a couple of performances. Incidentally, those interested in the original version will find a reconstruction of it included on the previous Naxos disc.

The first of his surviving piano trios, dating from 1908 and entitled Phantasie Trio, is in a single, extended sonata form movement in four discernible sections. These comprise a melodically rich statement, beautifully structured development, forceful recapitulation and thrilling final coda.

Again in a single extended movement, the second trio of 1917 might best be described as a theme and metamorphoses where the initial idea undergoes a series of mood transformations. There’s a pall over everything that undoubtedly reflects the composer’s shock and grief over the slaughter then taking place on World War I battlefields (see the newsletter of 15 April 2008).

The third trio, completed in 1938, is in four movements and dedicated to William Walton (1902–1983). The mood here is somewhat brighter than its predecessor, but there are moments when the specter of another looming world war seems to be in the composer’s thoughts. The scherzo is totally infectious with one of those tunes you can’t get out of your head. The version of it here with violin sounds rather folksy, whereas the original one with clarinet (see the opening paragraph) seems somewhat diabolical.

The CD is filled out with four pieces for violin and piano. The Berceuse (1902), Cavatina (1904) and Bagatelle (1911) are Edwardian salon pieces with a level of melodic invention worthy of Elgar (1857–1934). Originally the third of four piano preludes (1913–15), and having appeared in many different arrangements by the composer, The Holy Boy (1913) as configured here brings this appealing disc to a winsome conclusion.

The Gould Piano Trio with violinist Lucy Gould, cellist Alice Neary and Pianist Benjamin Frith play all of this music to perfection, successfully capturing the variety of moods represented. More specifically they endow the second trio with appropriate gravitas, while there’s a delicate abandon about the way they handle the lighter pieces.

Silky string tone, well rounded piano sound and a perfectly focused soundstage in an ideal chamber music venue make this an audiophile selection. As far as romantic piano trios go you’d be hard-pressed to find a better sonic representation of one than this.

Calum MacDonald
BBC Music Magazine, July 2009

In recent year Naxos has been issuing an impressive series of recordings of John Ireland’s chamber music; this is probably the most important, for the three piano trios are perhaps his most significant chamber works. Admittedly the first of them, the 1908 Phantasie Trio, conforming to the English ‘Phantasie’ form encouraged by WW Cobbett’s chamber-music competitions, is still redolent of his early Brahmsianism; but certainly the Second (1917), whose eventful single movement reflects his response to the Great War, and the four-movement Third, are vintage Ireland. Especially No.3, which evolved over 25 years from its original form as Ireland’s fine (but suppressed) Clarinet Trio of 1913 (I reviewed the world premiere recording of its reconstruction, also on Naxos [8.570550], in May); among numerous re-writings the Piano Trio, which became a kind of summa of Ireland’s best thoughts, acquired a new and especially intense slow movement.

These excellent performances are distinguished by beauty of tone and a rhythmic spring and alertness that has not always been Ireland’s lot: too often rival ensembles have fallen into a comfortable lollopy tramp for his faster movements, but the Gould Trio bring out the music’s rhythmic variety, the nervous strength in the way the lines—admirably balanced in Naxos’s recording—are made to work against each other. The only current competing account of all three trios is by Lydia Mordkovitch, Karine Georgian and Ian Brown in a Chandos box of Ireland’s complete chamber music: their interpretations are passionate and deeply-felt, but I feel the Goulds have the edge in both polish and recording. The coupling here of four violin-piano miniatures, three of them virtually salon pieces and the fourth the perennially popular [The] Holy Boy, is a pleasant counterweight but adds little to the overall achievement.

John France
MusicWeb International, June 2009

John Ireland’s Piano Trios are a critical part of his repertoire. Certainly they form an ideal way to explore his chamber music. And for once, I would suggest that the listener approaches these three works in the order they written.

The Phantasie Trio in A minor was one of many works composed for the illustrious Cobbett Music Competitions announced in 1907. The twenty-eight year old composer submitted this present piece alongside some 37 other entrants. It is probably reasonably well-known that the winner of that competition was Frank Bridge. However, Ireland scored a joint second with the now largely forgotten James Friskin.  The winning pieces were performed at the Aeolian Hall on January 1909.

The Musical Times reports that this work was characterised by “extreme brilliancy and strenuousness and is rich in musicianship”. It is a sentiment with which even a cursory hearing will reveal. The same review notes that Ireland was called to the platform twice—and considering that Brahms Trio in B was also performed the writer felt that it was a “triumph for British chamber music”. Structurally, the work mirrors sonata form, but is written in one continuous movement with the four parts reflecting the exposition, the development, the recapitulation and a coda.

The great critic Edwin Evans felt that the Phantasie Trio marked the end of Ireland’s early compositional period and the starting point of a new direction. He conceded that there was a lot of characteristic ‘Ireland’ writing here. He noted that the mood of the work is “classical throughout, and [that] unity is secured not so much by derivation of the thematic material…as an affinity of themes which maintain their independence”. He concludes by suggesting that the “use of themes which are homogonous without being positively related often produces a better result, and the cohesion of this attractive trio is not the least of its many qualities”.

This Trio is a work that certainly deserved its prize and makes, in spite of Evans’s prose, an approachable introduction to John Ireland’s chamber music.

The Piano Trio No.2 is in complete contrast to the Phantasie. For one thing this work was composed in 1917, a time when the full horrors of the Great War were manifest.  Both this work and the slightly earlier Second Violin Sonata are usually regarded as expressing the composer’s feelings about the tragedy and the loss of the Great War. Yet although the composer allegedly told the cellist Florence Hooton that the ‘allegro guisto’ section “evoked the boys going over the top’ this is not a ‘Battle of the Trafalgar’ type of musical confection. It is perhaps more to do with Ireland trying to cling to “the beauty that remained on the earth amidst the carnage and inhumanity of the battle.”  In spite of alleged warlike allusions there is much in this Trio that  has a ‘haunting beauty’ and interestingly the work concludes on an optimistic note bearing in mind the date of its composition.

The sleeve-notes quote Fiona Richards in her book The Music of John Ireland (Ashgate 2000) “This is a work of mixed emotions, contrasting passages of stark textures and caustic harmonies with effusive moments and grim marches. The structure of the work is a succession of episodes exploring different mood, all of which are melodic metamorphoses of the first eighteen bars of the piece”. It is a wise and appropriate summary of what is not an easy work to come to terms with.

The final Trio is my personal favourite.  I have long felt that this work describes a landscape—not in any pictorial manner, but quite simply manages to capture the mood of a day’s exploration on the Chanctonbury Ring and the South Downs. It is to do with the composer’s or the listener’s response to that landscape. But this is also more about mere picture painting. It is about Ireland’s response to the genre of chamber music, his personal stylistic development and manages to complement both the mature composer and the youthful enthusiasm of his earlier scores. It is perhaps no surprise that he dedicated the work to William Walton.  I have noted elsewhere that although Walton is the dedicatee, there are quite a few nods to Vaughan Williams in these pages. This is perhaps most obvious in the scherzo where there even appear to be allusion to a kind of folksong.  Perhaps the highlight of the work is the romantically overblown slow movement.

The Trio was composed in 1938 and does not really respond to the international situation that was already engulfing Europe. The score incorporates a deal of material salvaged from the withdrawn Clarinet Trio. That work has been recently recovered and realised by Stephen Fox. It was released on Naxos 8.570550. It is important to realise that this earlier score was completely reworked and expanded: it was not just an arrangement.  The Trio in E is written in four movements, which on the one had are contrasting, but on the other are thematically related to the opening ‘allegro moderato’.

It would be very easy to ignore the four salon pieces which have been included as makeweights for this CD.  Somehow Naxos were some 12 minutes shy of a full hour and decided to allow these charming woks to appear alongside the main event. Oh! that they had chosen to present the James Friskin Phantasie in A minor which came second equal in the 1907 Cobbett completion—assuming that the score and parts still exist.

But these miniatures are certainly worth reviving occasionally.  As the sleeve notes suggest, the first two of these, the Cavatina (1902) and the Berceuse (1904), “show that Ireland had a gift for melody in the style of say Elgar’s Salut d’amour or Chanson de Matin”.

The Bagatelle is a piece that I have not heard before. It was composed in 1911 for Marjorie Haywood who was soloist in the composer’s substantial First Violin Sonata. All three of these works could be described as charming: none of them are essential.

We are on different territory with the final piece—The Holy Boy. This work, written in 1913, was originally the third movement of the Four Preludes for piano which were not published until 1917. This work has been ‘dished up’ in a number of different arrangements including for string orchestra, organ, four part choir and cello and piano. Lately it has appeared on a Naxos CD in a version for clarinet and piano.  The sleeve notes suggest that the inspiration for this piece may have been the Georgian poet Harold Munro’s Children of Love, which begins with the lies “The holy boy/ went from his mother out in the cool of the day” and evokes a meeting between Jesus and Eros. Perhaps a more prosaic suggestion is that the inspiration for this work was a certain Bobby Glassby, a chorister at St Luke’s Church in Chelsea. It is possible that it was both.

I enjoyed the playing by the Gould Piano Trio and felt that they had truly entered into the spirit of the music. They apply themselves with equal attention to the heavier Trios as well as the lighter salon pieces.

The programme notes are good and introduce these works well. There is so much that could be said about the Trios in particular, that it is quite a work of art to provide sufficient information in a manageable format.

Fundamentally, the competing versions are those on Lyrita, Chandos and ASV. What is the preferred version? Well, to paraphrase my late father—“No one makes, and tries to sell, a bad version of the Ireland Trios.”  Each of these releases is a great recording in their own right. I was ‘brought up’ on the Lyrita recording and have a certain bias towards that one. However, a comparative study notwithstanding, I suggest that this present release is a great investment. As I often say, all Ireland enthusiasts will insist on adding this CD to their collection.

Piers Burton-Page
International Record Review, June 2009

The Gould Trio convince me that Ireland can be listened to with other, fresher ears…the recording is impressive, bold but never overwhelming…this newcomer is a solid addition to the catalogue.

James Manheim, June 2009

The British composer John Ireland put a distinctive stamp on the late-Edwardian style in which he was trained, featuring quiet lyricism, ornamental hints of pentatonicism that could carry a great many meanings, and spiritual and social ideas. He maintained a consistent voice, through several eras of musical change, until late in a long life. The Piano Trio No. 2 in E major of 1917, heard here but not often otherwise outside Britain, exemplifies an antiwar streak in Ireland’s thinking, and it’s well worth a revival. The booklet refers to a point in the music that Ireland said was meant to evoke soldiers coming over the top of a trench, and indeed the entire work is permeated with polyphonic writing that has at once an implacable quality and a feeling of anger. The other two piano trios included are also worth hearing. The Piano Trio No. 3 in E major is dated 1938 but draws on material composed shortly before World War I. Ireland’s first work in the medium, the Phantasie Trio in A minor of 1908, put him on the British musical map; it took second place in a contest that specified a single-movement structure in recognition of the Renaissance-era English fantasy, but then backed off from this innovative idea and insisted on four conventional sonata movements, run together into one. This Ireland accomplished, with a wealth of melodic invention throughout. The CD is rounded out by a quartet of little violin-and-piano pieces, insubstantial salon products but each with distinctive workmanship. The Holy Boy for violin and piano may refer to a poem of the day about an imaginary conversation between Jesus and Cupid. That’s a little slice of the cultural and musical world Ireland inhabited, but it was a world he transcended.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2009

It was the Phantasie Trio that brought John Ireland to public attention, but, always the perfectionist, it was to be a further eleven years before he published another work in the genre. He had an unhappy childhood, having experienced the death of both parents while still an early teenager, and it was to provoke a sense of insecurity throughout life. His musical education was comprehensive, and he became the most outstanding compositional pupil of Stanford, though it was to be as a church organist and choirmaster that he earned his early living. After that highly enjoyable 1906 Phantasie the following trios, from 1917 and 1938 are said to have influences of war, though it has been exaggerated as you will discover in the happy and frothy scherzo and the vivacious finale of the Third. Both are a style of composition handed down from Elgar, with a masterly interweaving of thematic material between instruments. The disc is completed by four salon pieces for violin and piano, the final track given to an arrangement of The Holy Boy which, in its many guises, became Ireland’s best-known work. Today the  Gould is our leading interpreter of British piano trios, the Second Trio splendidly taut, with each score unfolding at an admirably judged pace. Though there is a healthy list of alternative recordings, these performances are really in a league of their own. The ensemble’s Lucy Gould and Benjamin Frith play the salon pieces to the manner born. Stunningly lifelike recordings.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group