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Chris Green
Opus Klassiek, March 2012

IRELAND, J.: Sextet / Clarinet Trio / Fantasy-Sonata / The Holy Boy (Plane, Rahman, Maggini Quartet) 8.570550
IRELAND: 5 Poems / We’ll to the Woods No More / Sea Fever / Santa Chiara (English Song, Vol. 18) 8.570467
IRELAND, J.: Piano Works, Vol. 2 (Lenehan) - Decorations / Sonatina / Leaves from a Child’s Sketchbook 8.553889

The budget label Naxos is to be commended in recording many of Ireland’s works for voice and for instruments with a Trio for clarinet, cello and piano reconstructed by Canadian Stephen Fox being given its first recording in a programme in which the clarinet features in a dominant musical role. Robert Plane is the clarinettist with Sophia Rahman (piano), Alice Neary (cello) and David Pyatt (horn). The Maggini Quartet join for the Sextet for clarinet, horn and quartet composed in 1898. In between the two major chamber works comes the gentle songThe Holy Boy (1913) and the Fantasy Sonata for the same combination during the darkest days of the Second World War. As usual, the accompanying CD booklet offers a full and illuminating commentary on the background to these works which feature Ireland’s favourite instrument, the clarinet…

The songs are a joy to hear and, even more so, to sing. Roderick Williams (baritone) and Iain Burnside (piano) traverse twenty-seven of these brief master pieces which include some of his most famous settings such as Sea Fever (1913), If there were dreams to sell (1918) and Vagabond (1922). Often the writing is muscular, at other times so gentle…

The Ireland legacy continues on the Naxos label with John Lenehan playing ten of his piano works…and here there are all the typical Ireland’s thumbprints—the love of melody in the right hand, the little grace notes that decorate the melodies and the surprising harmonies which display the influence of Ravel, Stravinsky and Gershwin. © 2012

Em Marshall
Albion Magazine Online, September 2009

This disc of chamber works by John Ireland opens with the Trio in D for clarinet (Robert Plane), cello (Alice Neary) and piano (Sophia Rahman)—an unusual item, as Ireland withdrew the work after its first performance.  It has been reconstructed by the Canadian clarinetist Stephen Fox and proves a most charming work, with a wonderfully mysterious and expansive third movement. The Trio is followed by the Fantasy Sonata for clarinet and piano, Robert Plane's arrangement of the much-loved Holy Boy (also for clarinet and piano), and concludes with the most substantial work on the disc, the slightly Brahmsian Sextet for clarinet, French horn (David Pyatt), and string quartet (the Maggini Quartet), with a particularly radiant performance of the tender second movement.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, July 2009

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.

Patrick Hanudel
American Record Guide, July 2009

In this release, Robert Plane, the Principal Clarinet of the BBC Orchestra of Wales, along with several prominent colleagues in the British music scene, presents that program, plus an arrangement of the piano prelude ‘The Holy Boy’ (1913) for clarinet and piano. Ireland’s admiration of Brahms and Debussy are evident; his music is more sincere than showy, more expressive than hurried. Plane and his collaborators respect these boundaries, yet still make an excellent case for his works, knowing when to hold back and when to indulge the composer’s irresistible romanticism.

Plane is more disciplined than most British clarinetists when it comes to sound and articulation—he is a very good chamber musician, and his soft playing is deliciously exquisite.

Jeremy Dibble
Gramophone, June 2009

Ravishing playing marks these unfairly neglected chamber works for clarinet

This disc is a most welcome addition to the catalogue of recordings of John Ireland’s chamber music (a rather neglected but superb corpus of deeply felt works) in that its principal focus is the range of pieces that the composer wrote for clarinet, played here with ravishing lyricism and conviction by Robert Plane, who has surely now fully occupied the shoes of the late Thea King in his championship of British clarinet music. Plane’s kinship with this music is clear from the more Brahmsian hues of the Sextet (1898), the limpid lyricism of The Holy Boy arrangement (1913), to the extrovert passion of the Fantasy Sonata for Clarinet (1943) where he is arguably at his most impressive.

Though the Sextet, a student work, betrays a deference to Brahms (not surprising since Stanford, his teacher, prescribed the model for all his students), there is a freshness and fluency about the material as well as a flair for the idiom, which compares favourably with those prodigious chamber works of Hurls tone, Coleridge-Taylor (both RCM fellow students) and, later, Frank Bridge. An attractive novelty on this CD is the Clarinet Trio which Ireland completed in 1913 but withdrew after two performances. Left incomplete and in manuscript at Ireland’s death, it has been reconstructed skilfully by Stephen Fox (using analogies with a later version for piano trio and a further reworking of the material for his Piano Trio No 3 of 1938). Plane, Alice Neary and Sophia Rahman give a sensitive reading of a style that is much more distinctly “Irelandesque” in its assimilation of French sonorities and sound-moments, Plane’s hushed playing being especially enthralling.

John France
MusicWeb International, April 2009

It is fortunate that Stephen Fox has written a fine essay on the rediscovery and realisation of John Ireland’s ‘forgotten’ Clarinet Trio. Any listener of this work—or potential purchaser of this Naxos CD—could do a lot worse than to read this article. It is an excellent example of musical scholarship that is not too demanding on the reader’s technical knowledge.

The Trio was composed in 1912–13 and was first performed at a Thomas Dunhill chamber concert in the Steinway Hall on 9 June 1914. The soloists were Charles Draper, who was known as the grandfather of English clarinettists, May Mukle (cello) and the composer played the piano. Unfortunately, although the concert is mentioned in the Musical Times, there is no criticism of the piece.

John Ireland withdrew the work after a couple of performances and reworked some of the material into a ‘conventional’ Piano Trio; however this did not come to fruition. Some of the music was finally used in the Piano Trio No. 3 of 1938.

The Clarinet Trio is a million miles away in stylistic terms from the early Sextet—also on this CD. For one thing, the composer has by now established his own individual voice. Gone is the sound-world of Brahms and Stanford, to be replaced by the influence of Debussy and perhaps even Ravel. However, in spite of the French flavour, Stephen Fox is right in suggesting that much of this music could not have been written by anyone other than a British composer.

This is a great discovery for a host of reasons. But, as I listened to this piece, I felt that the overriding achievement has been the resurrection of a quintessential Ireland work. It is an interesting composition that has many highlights and not a few truly lovely moments. It is a piece that will have to work its way into the British Music enthusiast’s psyche, however, even a superficial hearing is enough to convince the listener that it is certainly an injustice that this work has been unheard and unavailable for such a long time. Full marks to Stephen Fox!

I often reflect that one of the earliest Ireland pieces that I heard was the Fantasy Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. I think I knew this work even before my school-boy discovery of the song "If there were Dreams to Sell", The Holy Boy or the London Pieces which I seem to have known and loved all my life. I cannot now recall if it was a live performance, a radio broadcast or a vinyl recording that introduced me to this work some 38 years ago—but it has remained a favourite ever since. It is not a long piece of music, but in the space of just under quarter of an hour Ireland seems to say so many things—and every note is worthy of its composer. The Fantasy Sonata is a single movement work that harks back to the earlier Phantasy Trio written for the Cobbett competitions in the early years of the twentieth century. However, the Fantasy is actually presented in three related, but unrepeated sections. It achieves a perfect balance between a Cobbett-ian phantasy and a formal sonata.

This is a late work, written during some of the darkest days of the Second World War. Bruce Phillips reminds the listener that Ireland had to flee his beloved Guernsey in 1940 shortly before the Germans invaded. So it is hardly surprising that this, his most important work since Sarnia, is full of introspection and reflection.

The Fantasy Sonata was to be Ireland’s last major chamber work. I wrote in another review that I felt there was nothing ‘end of term’ about this music: this present performance reinforces this view. It is a stunning Sonata that is both difficult and satisfying for performers. It can be seen as a work that sums up and consummates the composer’s career.

The Holy Boy, for clarinet and piano, is an attractive, but rarely presented, version of this ubiquitous piece. I guess that most amateur pianists have approached the original tune with varying degrees of success and confidence over the years. However, there are also versions for string orchestra, organ, four-part choir and cello and piano—so the present edition is an interesting addition to the catalogue. The piece, written in 1913 was originally the third of Four Preludes for piano finally published in 1917. The inspiration for the original incarnation of this work was Bobby Glassby, a chorister at St Luke’s Church in Chelsea. The present recording made use of the transcription for viola and piano.

The Sextet was written after the nineteen year old composer had attended a concert at the St James’ Hall. Here, he heard Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet with Richard Mühlfeld and the Joachim Quartet. Ireland was impressed by both the work and the ‘revelation’ of the clarinet playing. He immediately set to work on this present work, and took the opportunity to add the French Horn to the ensemble. The Sextet was modelled on the chamber music and symphonic structure of Brahms.

Although the work was tried out at the Royal College of Music under the auspices of Charles Villiers Stanford, it was never formally performed. Stanford apparently enjoyed the first and second movements but felt that the final ‘in tempo moderato’ was ‘not organic’.

Over a century later, musicologists have found that it is harder to agree with this sentiment. Lewis Foreman has suggested that it is in this last movement that the “younger composer was beginning tentatively to find himself.”

A final evaluation of this work must recognise that the Sextet owes much to the musical ethos of Stanford and by definition Johannes Brahms. It is a work that gives relatively little intimation of the John Ireland that was to emerge in later years. There is a whole musical world separating this Sextet and a piece such as the Piano Sonata or the Fantasy Sonata. Yet, as an example of a student work that is exemplified by a youthful freshness, that reveals a good understanding of instrumentation and form and is never short of invention, it is an essential piece for every enthusiast of John Ireland’s musical heritage.

It is unfortunate that this work remained unperformed for over sixty years. Fortunately, the composer had not destroyed it, but had kept the score in a drawer. He was persuaded to allow the work to be given at a Hampton Music Club concert on 25 March 1960.

The performances of these works are first rate. This recording makes a fine stable-mate to the Melos and Holywell Ensemble versions of the Sextet on ASV and Lyrita and the Fantasy Sonata played by Gervase de Peyer and Eric Parkin on the latter label.

The programme notes are good, but perhaps could have been a little more fulsome, although I accept that Stephen Fox does give a good account of the Trio as noted above.

This CD is a must for all Ireland enthusiasts—however many recordings of the Fantasy Sonata there are (9); there is always room for one more—and this present CD is a great one!

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, April 2009

Those who liked a previous Naxos release with some chamber music for clarinet by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924) [8.570356] , are going to love this one featuring more of the same by his student John Ireland (1879–1962). The clarinet trio on this later disc will be of particular interest because it's a recent reconstruction of one Ireland completed in 1913, but then withdrew shortly after its first couple of performances. Some years later he reworked parts of it into his third piano trio (1938).

We have Canadian clarinet maker and virtuoso Stephen Fox to thank for this version of the trio. He had to invent about a quarter of what we now hear. But as Anthony Payne (b. 1936) did in his elaboration of the Elgar third symphony, Fox meticulously adhered to the style of the composer, making for a very authentic-sounding finished product. In three movements, the opening allegro features a lively debate between the clarinet and cello moderated by the piano. The march-like scherzo conjures up images of toy soldiers on parade, and is a real toe-tapper. The last movement begins with overcast skies, but the sun soon breaks through, and the trio ends optimistically with virtuosic passages for each of the soloists. Clarinetists will find this an invaluable addition to the body of works for their instrument.

Like his Phantasie Trio for Piano (No. 1, 1906), the Fantasy Sonata for Clarinet and Piano dating from 1943 is in one movement. It’s a highly romantic rhapsody in which the composer's love for this wind instrument is quite apparent, and must rank as one of his finest chamber works. All facets of the clarinet’s expressiveness are explored, with extended melodic passages that show off its sensuality, and agitated virtuosic outbursts where it can sound almost hyenic.

An Ireland war-horse that has appeared in all sorts of transcriptions (see the newsletter of 12 March 2009), The Holy Boy originated as the third of four piano preludes (1913–15). The version for clarinet and piano done here was specially arranged for this recording by our soloist Robert Plane. He based it on one for viola made in 1925 by Lionel Tertis. The breathy mellifluence of the clarinet makes this yet another memorable treatment of one of the best tunes to come out of twentieth-century England.

And now for the pièce de résistance du disque, the sextet for clarinet, horn and string quartet written in 1898 when the composer was only nineteen. In four movements, this particular combination of winds and strings is sonorously supernal. Falling stylistically somewhere between Brahms (1833–1897) and Dvorák (1841–1904), most would have to agree it's a youthful masterpiece.

The introductory allegro is notable for a couple of memorable, highly romantic thematic ideas. But the lion's claws of Ireland's mature style show through in some spicy, dissonant-sounding spots [track-6, beginning at 02:08 and 06:32] that must have grossed out Sir Charles (see the newsletter of 20 September 2006). Maybe that's why Ireland relegated the score to a desk drawer shortly after its première, not allowing it to surface until some sixty years later thanks to the entreaties of English clarinetist Thea King (1925–1007).

The andante is intriguing for its ambiguous optimism, while there's a Jeux d'enfants innocence about the intermezzo that's most appealing. In the final movement Ireland explores the different sonic characteristics of the winds, and the sextet concludes excitedly with a final twitter of approval from everyone. All romantic chamber music enthusiasts should have this in their collections. Clarinetist Robert Plane's tone is sumptuous and his playing full of conviction tempered by great sensitivity for this music. Cellist Alice Neary is superb in the opening trio, as is pianist Sophia Rahman, who is also proficient in the sonata and Holy Boy. Many will remember hornist David Pyatt from his invaluable release of British horn concertos on Lyrita, and here he is again in equally fine form for the sextet. He and Robert Plane are joined by the Maggini Quartet, who are fast becoming the leading exponents of contemporary British string quartets (see the newsletters of 6 December 2006 and 28 April 2007). There are other discs of the sextet, but you won’t find one with more bang for the buck than this!

The recordings are superb and definitely audiophile quality. All of the instruments sound completely natural, and their positioning as well as the balance between them is ideal. The first thee selections were recorded in a different venue than the last. Consequently some pointy-eared listeners may find the sextet sounds a bit drier at the outset. But the ear quickly acclimates to it, and any acoustic discrepancies are soon forgotten.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2009

The British predilection for ignoring their national composers has nowhere been more cruel than the neglect of John Ireland whose mature music should rank with the major French Impressionists. A student of Stanford at London’s Royal College of Music, his mentor’s Germanic inclinations were implanted in an impressionable young man. The Sextet for horn, clarinet and string quartet dating from his nineteenth year, and was thus influenced by his exposure to the works of Brahms. Unsure of its value the manuscript was hidden away and only revealed when the composer was eighty-one in a chance conversation with the clarinettist, Thea King. A premiere in 1960 displayed a score that was as much a personal statement as it was in debt to Brahms. In four quite extended movements it is a strong work, the quartet providing the substance upon which the horn and clarinet can elaborate, often with technical adroitness. By the time of the Clarinet Trio the music of Debussy and Ravel had entered his life, with their use of washes of colour interspersed with blinding flashes of musical lights. Completed in 1913, he was unhappy with the outcome and reused material for the Third Piano Trio, with much of the original manuscript subsequently lost. Maybe the reconstruction by the Canadian clarinettist, Stephen Fox, takes liberties, but to have something approaching the original is more than welcome. Between the two extended scores comes two of Ireland’s masterpieces, the Fantasy Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, and a transcription for clarinet and piano of the The Holy Boy. The recording parades some of Naxos’s finest performers, with the outstanding clarinettist, Robert Plane; the cellist from the Gould Piano Trio, Alice Neary; one of the UK’s outstanding horn players, David Pyatt, and the Maggini Quartet. Bring them together and you have the assurance of the fabulous performances they deliver. The sound quality is every bit as good as the playing.

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