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Piano Music by John Ireland Vol. 1

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Catalogue No: SOMMCD 074
Release Date: 03/01/2008
Number of Discs: 1
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Recorded in Birmingham’s splendid Symphony Hall with pianist Mark Bebbington and support from the John Ireland Trust, this release begins a thorough exploration of the Piano Music of John Ireland. The First Volume includes Ireland’s substantial Sonata, Decorations, London Pieces, the Ballade and the Sonatina.

Mark Bebbington – Piano

This exciting SOMM release, recorded in Birmingham’s splendid Symphony Hall with support from the John Ireland Trust begins a thorough exploration of the Piano Music of John Ireland, which will extend to four volumes and which will include additional, newly discovered pieces not previously recorded.

The First Volume includes Ireland’s substantial Sonata, Decorations, London Pieces, the Ballade and the Sonatina. The release is ideally timed, coinciding as it does with Mark Bebbington’s piano recital on 26th June in St. Luke’s Church, Chelsea, during the Chelsea Festival. Mark’s recital will include the London Pieces in tribute to John Ireland who was organist and choirmaster at St. Luke’s and lived for almost 50 years at 14 Gunter Grove in Chelsea, where all his mature music was written.

Ireland’s three-movement Piano Sonata, composed between 1918 and 1920 takes pride of place among the finest examples of British piano sonatas and is an expression of the turbulent and tragic times through which the world had lived. It was premiered at the Wigmore Hall in June 1920 by the Scottish pianist Frederic Lamond, a pupil of Liszt. The music critic Ralph Hill considered it to be ‘one of the finest and most important since Liszt’s in B minor’.

Ireland’s name is probably best known to pianists as the composer of a large number of short descriptive piano pieces bearing evocative titles. He liked to group these pieces together under a collective title. The three highly evocative pieces published in 1915 with the title Decorations, bring together The Island Spell, written during one of Ireland’s many visits to Jersey, Moon-glade and The Scarlet Ceremonies, written in Chelsea in June 1913.

The London Pieces are also grouped together as a set of three. The first, Chelsea Reach, is an impression of the Thames as it sweeps along the Chelsea Embankment. The Puckish Ragamuffin suggests the sight of a small, carefree boy whistling along a Chelsea street while the third piece, Soho Forenoons evokes a scene of genial street activity and bustle with a hint of barrel organs.

By contrast, the Ballade is a very dark and anguished work dating from 1929, a time of serious emotional turmoil brought on by the disastrous failure in 1928 of Ireland’s marriage and possibly by the marriage in 1927 of Arthur Miller, a former choir boy at St. Luke’s Church, who evidently inspired in him very deep feelings of attachment and friendship. The three-movement Sonatine, published in 1928 is simpler in structure and the writing is stripped of the crowded harmonic density of his previous music. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was very much admired by Peter Warlock.

On This Recording

  1. Piano Sonata: I. Allegro moderato
  2. Piano Sonata: II. Non troppo lento
  3. Piano Sonata: III. Con moto moderato
  4. Decorations: No. 1. The Island Spell
  5. Decorations: No. 2. Moon-Glade
  6. Decorations: No. 3. The Scarlet Ceremonies
  7. : No. 1. Chelsea Reach
  8. : No. 2. Ragamuffin
  9. : No. 3. Soho Forenoons
  10. Ballade
  11. Piano Sonatina: I. Moderato
  12. Piano Sonatina: II. Quasi lento
  13. Piano Sonatina: III. Rondo: Ritmico, non troppo allegro