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Elaine Fine
American Record Guide, January 2011

Lucy Gould and Benjamin Frith play this music spectacularly. It is well written and well played…The violin sonatas…I want to hear again and again.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, November 2010

We now live in good times when it comes to Ireland’s chamber music. Single disc surveys of the string sonatas are also relatively plentiful. I’ve referred to a few at the end of this review for ease of reading, though other recordings are certainly around. Now at budget price comes the latest entrant and it does what Dutton should have done when it released its historic disc of the composer playing the Violin Sonatas with august colleagues Sammons and Grinke but not including the Cello Sonata with Antoni Sala; Naxos has sensibly presented all these three sonatas together; normally the fiddle player will baulk at this and include some of Ireland’s morceaux for his instrument. But the difference here is that all three performers are members of the Gould Piano Trio, so democratic instincts win the day.

I think Ireland would be impressed by the space the Gould-Frith duo give the opening movement of the First Sonata. Ireland was particular about a full justice being paid to his piano writing; even so this duo is a full minute slower. They are touchingly refined and warm in the lovely slow movement with some splendidly conceived phrasing and articulation from Frith. The Second Sonata reveals the fine detailing, the precise exploration of Ireland’s writing, that this duo invariably locates. Gould is a refined, unfussy player with a slightly tight vibrato in the higher positions. Frith doesn’t overpower her in the more strenuous passages; ensemble is fine…. I like the way Gould blanches her tone in the slow movement, much as she did at times in the slow movement of the First, though I feel a lack of power in the finale in its more tempestuous passages. Nevertheless this and the companion sonata are admirably shaped; the brightness of the playing and its tempo-related intelligence remaining highly enjoyable and rewarding to hear.

The Cello Sonata is a work that produces little real tempo variation among performers. Some take the finale a little faster, or a little slower, but in the main it’s interesting how consistent performers over the years continue to be. If you were a betting man you could lays odds-on that a performance will last 20:35 and not be more than 20 seconds out either way. The differences, of course, lie in inflexion, and in the relative depth accorded the central slow movement. Alice Neary plays with considerable conviction, and ratchets and releases the tension with acute insight; I’m thinking in particular of her way—Frith’s too—as the first movement reaches its powerful ascent. There’s discreet tenderness in the slow movement and a colloquial vitality to the finale, with Frith as ever keeping things alert and energised at the keyboard. Single recommendations are very difficult but as a trio of performances this Naxos disc brings plenty of character and perceptive musicianship to the table.

Sterling Beeaff
KBAQ, October 2010

Violinist Lucy Gould, cellist Alice Neary, and pianist Benjamin Frith play sonatas by John Ireland described as “a brilliant specimen of his powers” and praised for their “delicacy, lucidity, and tonal charm.”

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, October 2010

Two early violin sonatas and a generous bonus in the Cello Sonata

John Ireland’s two violin sonatas, both early works, were what first alerted serious music-lovers to the arrival of a distinctive new voice among young British composers. In 1911 the First Sonata won first prize out of 134 entries in the third Cobbett Competition for chamber works, on this occasion not for the “phantasy” form which Cobbett wanted to encourage but simply for pieces for violin and piano. The powerful first movement leads on to an easily lyrical slow movement featuring a simple melody repeated an octave higher. The flowing music of the finale rounds the work off very effectively. The Second Sonata of 1915 had even greater success when it was first performed, receiving rave reviews and wide audience acclaim. It too is in three nicely balanced movements ending with an energetic finale. Violinists will tell you that both sonatas are grateful to play, not just by virtuoso but also by amateurs. Lucy Gould, one of the leading British violinists of her generation, is most sympathetically accompanied by Benjamin Frith, a pianist I have long thought should be far more widely acclaimed. I especially remember an outstanding version of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations that he recorded, which alas disappeared from the catalogue far too quickly.

There have been excellent recordings previously of the two Ireland violin sonatas in coupling but here Naxos most generously offer as an extra Ireland’s Cello Sonata of 1923, just as striking in its three well constructed movements, with a first movement thrillingly rounded off by an energetic coda, and a warmly flowing second movement. This too receives an outstanding performance from Alice Neary with Frith again an ideal accompanist. With well balanced sound the disc makes a welcome addition to Naxos’s growing library of British chamber works from a period too often neglected.

Calum MacDonald
BBC Music Magazine, October 2010

Here [the Violin Sonatas] receive splendid advocacy from Lucy Gould and Benjamin Frith…Alice Neary’s account of [the Cello Sonata] is similarly powerful…though all three performers are first rate, throughout it’s Frith’s piano playing, the masterly way he unfolds both the rhetoric and the intricacy of Ireland’s taxing piano parts, that gives these performances a special verve.

John France
MusicWeb International, September 2010

The First Violin Sonata was composed in 1908–09 and was revised by the composer in 1917 and again in 1944. It was entered for the 1909 Cobbett Chamber Music Competition, winning first prize out of 134 entries. The Sonata is written in three movements—an allegro, a romance and a ‘very easy-going’ allegro. It is this last movement that may be seen as causing a stylistic and emotional imbalance in what is effectively a reserved work.

It is often noted that this sonata is the first piece to betray intimations of Ireland’s mature style. Whilst this may be the case, it is also true to say that the work is fairly and squarely in the classical-romantic paradigm. It is largely sad and introverted and only really becomes upbeat in the final ‘rondo’ with a light-weight dance tune that fairly bounces along. However the heart of the work is the stunningly beautiful second movement ‘romance’. Interestingly, this makes use of modal scales and harmonies which were to become a typical John Ireland fingerprint. Whether the listener would agree with the reviewer in the Pall Mall journal who states that ‘This Sonata is quite one of the most important works of its kind heard in recent years…’ is another matter. However, Mr Karlyle, the music correspondent of The Star summed up this work perfectly: ‘Delicacy, lucidity, and tonal charm, are qualities inherent in the music. Coherence of ideas is apparent in the three movements, which are cleverly and definitely contrasted in mood. There is a strong vein of temperament in every one.’

The Second Violin Sonata occupies a rather unique position in British music: it is one of the few chamber works to have become a ‘hit’ with the concert-going public. The first performance of this work was given in 6 March 1917 in London at the Aeolian Hall by Albert Sammons and William Murdoch. It seemed to strike the right chord with a war-weary public and literally became an overnight success. It was after this concert that Ireland became a well-known and respected composer. The style of this music has moved on considerably from the previous violin sonata. The major change is that the entire sound-world is now what most listeners would regard as being typically ‘Ireland’. This is a broadly conceived work that is developed on a large canvass: it covers a wide variety of moods and emotional expression. There is a constant interchange of themes that create what Stuart Scott has described as ‘a kind of romantic ruggedness which Ireland has made his very own.’

The second movement is predictably the heart of this work. The music progresses as a kind of ‘death march’—which would have not have been missed by the wartime audience. However, there is a gorgeous tune in the middle of this movement that fills the hearer with optimism.

The final movement is a profound balance between something less-troubling than the processional music and a mood of melancholy. There are rhapsodic explorations and some introspective, even valedictory moments introduced into the proceedings. Yet, the mood does lighten towards the end: one feels that the composer has at least managed to escape for a time from his introverted thoughts.

The Cello Sonata was composed in 1923 and was duly given its first performance the following year at a concert for the Federation of Music Clubs. The soloists were Beatrice Harrison and Evlyn Howard-Jones. Harrison was impressed with this work and took it to the ISCM Festival in Salzburg. The sonata is, like the violin sonatas, written in three movements—a ‘moderato e sostenuto’, a ‘poco largamente’ and a ‘finale, con moto a marcato’. The work has been well described by Marion Scott as beginning quietly for cello alone, is cumulative and [ends] very brilliantly!’ Much of the material for this sonata is derived from the opening bars. The work is a fusion of melody, harmony and counterpoint which are combined in a manner that produces as ‘completely amalgamated progression of thought….’ Emotionally the work is passionate without ever exceeding the bounds of firm self-control. I have long felt that the second movement is one of the loveliest things in the literature for cello and piano. There is much beauty in these pages that creates an idealised world that we all surely aspire to. Yet this mood is ripped away in the finale. The opening pizzicato chords on the cello destroy any sense of the ‘pastoral’ dream. However, there is a flair and brilliance about this music that, in spite of a few depressed moments, casts care to the wind.

I have written elsewhere that ‘rightly or wrongly it is hard to listen to this piece without feeling some strong sense of place—in this case the landscape around Chanctonbury Hill and the West Sussex Downs.’ I still hold this view.

I thoroughly enjoyed this CD. For one thing it is appropriate that Naxos have coupled the three string sonatas on a single disc: this allows the listener to understand the composer’s chamber music development from 1908 to 1923 in one convenient form. It is played with a marked assuredness and considerable perception by the soloists and establishes a new benchmark for all subsequent performances.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2010

During recent years John Ireland’s two violin sonatas have edged their way back into the outer perimeters of the violin repertoire, a place they held in the years following composition. It was the Second that cemented the 37-year-old as a major composer on the international scene. Yet, like so many other composers of that time, he cut no ice with music establishments around the world that had become besotted with the Second Viennese School. Having lost both parents while still young, he had throughout life felt a sense of insecurity. His early living as church organist and choirmaster allowing him time to compose, though as a perfectionist his output was small, and made even more concise when he destroyed his early works. His style was elegant, immaculately structured and almost totally devoid of angst. As a pianist of quality, Ireland recorded both violin sonatas, and while I treasure those, Benjamin Frith explores more subtle dynamic nuances, while the violinist, Lucy Gould, brings her own loving shape to the scores, at times massaging both tempo and rhythm. They are long works both coming close to half an hour, the Second never far from the sadness left behind by those that died in the First World War, the extended slow movement stopping just short of an extended elegy. The finale reignites a happier mood. Throughout Gould’s playing has been outstanding, her immaculate intonation then taken up by Alice Neary in an outgoing account of Cello Sonata that I much commend. Almost eighty minutes of immaculately recorded music. Don’t miss this one.

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