JOHN IRELAND: Songbook, Vol. 1 – Mark Stone, baritone/ Sholto Kynoch, piano – Stone Records 5060I92780260, 66:40 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
I guess I did not realize that John Ireland (1879-1962) lived as long as he did; being a rather simple representative of echt Edwardian sentiment, it seems strange to imagine his last years bordering on Beatle mania. One wonders what he thought of it all, especially as Elvis appeared on the scene. You certainly won’t get any hint of that sort of aberration in this music—it transports, rather vividly and immediately, into a world where black was black, white was white, and Britain was Britain. Ireland’s choral works are what he is remembered for now, even though it should not be forgotten that he is the composer of the most popular Piano Concerto of its day.
His melancholic and rather insecure personality, especially exhibited in later years, is often to blame on his lousy childhood experiences; but this seems a little simple. Melancholy is hardly unknown to artists of any generation working in any genre—indeed, it might even seem de rigueur considering what we know of the lives of many musicians. Of course it didn’t help that his primary teacher, Charles Stanford, liked to use public humiliation as a means of corrective. Ireland endured this sort of curative for four years, though it must be admitted that others flourished under this sort of criticism—Ireland’s nature did not, though he did remain grateful.
This music is surprisingly attractive, considering its temperance. Ireland knows how to set a line of text, and does so well, though the selections are quite uneven. Perhaps the best (and certainly best known) are the ones by John Masefield, whose “Sea Fever” opens this disc, and would be Ireland’s most famous song. It’s worthy of the accolades, and Ireland duplicates it many times throughout the course of this recital. Many indeed are the allusions to the sea and its appurtenances on this disc, the first of what will be four CDs devoted to the composer. There are some slight slips of intonation, and I wonder if they didn’t occur because of boredom in a few instances where Ireland lapses into cookie-cutter musical imagery, but these are few and far between, and I must say that the album nicely captured at The Music Room, Champs Hill in West Sussex, proves quite relaxing under the right circumstances. Whether I will need four of them remains to be seen.
But Mark Stone, after surveying the songs of Quilter, Delius, CW Orr, George Butterworth and Havergal Brian, has certainly added a respectable addition in this first release.
Sea fever; The bells of San Marie; The vagabond; Hope the horn blower; The East Riding; In praise of Neptune; Here’s to the ships; Song from o’er the hill; The Lent lily; Ladslove; Goal and wicket; The vain desire; The encounter; Epilogue; The heart’s desire; We’ll to the woods no more; In boyhood; Spring will not wait; Hawthorn time; Spring sorrow; The soldier; Blow out, you bugles; Blind; The cost; A garrison churchyard; Love’s window; Billee Bowline; When I grow old; Hillo, my bonny; Porto Rico