MOERAN: Symphony in G Minor; IRELAND: Piano Concerto in E-flat – Eileen Joyce, piano/ Halle Orchestra/ Leslie Heward – Dutton

by | Dec 31, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

MOERAN: Symphony in G Minor; IRELAND: Piano Concerto in E-flat – Eileen Joyce, piano/ Halle Orchestra/ Leslie Heward – Dutton CDBP 9807, 67:00 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] **** :
Leslie Heward (1897-1943) receives little notice these days, his dying of severe asthma and tuberculosis as he neared his prime, having been groomed for the position at the helm of the Halle Orchestra, a post John Barbirolli was to occupy with distinction. Nevertheless, by virtue of some esteemed recordings, Heward’s talent shines forth, particularly in the case of the present combination of Irish composer, E.J. Moeran (1894-1950) and Scottish composer John Ireland (1879-1962).
Originally commissioned by Hamilton Harty, the Moeran G Minor Symphony underwent much revision before its premier 13 January 1938 under Leslie Heward, who had replaced the ailing Hamilton Harty. The British Council decided to sponsor a series of recordings promoting British music, and the Moeran symphony counted among them, the recording sessions set up in Manchester Hall for 25-26 November and 1 December 1942. In four movements strikingly derivative of Sibelius, Moeran presents a classical, albeit harmonically daring, structure that utilizes sonata-form and fugal procedures, as well melodic kernels based on the fourth and fifth, much like Sibelius.
Heward urges the first movement Allegro at a feverish pace, emphasizing its rugged musculature and aggressive energy reminiscent of William Walton’s First Symphony, but less dissonant. The Halle battery, including snare drum, has a considerable part in the evolution and coda of the movement. The Lento takes its melody from East Norfolk, England, but more specifically from a Moeran’s arrangement of a Norfolk folksong.  The echoes of the Sibelius Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, even the late tone-poem Tapiola, infiltrate the scoring. A gurgling wind section over a pedal bass often signifies Sibelius. This music achieves a degree of expressive anguish and moody fervor quite dramatic; the string sections then clears the way with a noble melody supported by the brass. Fluttering strings and oboe open the Scherzo, another echo of the Sibelius A Minor Symphony. The folkish music seems to combine East Norfolk gloom with Mendelssohn’s flightiness. Nice trumpet works marks the middle section. Whatever portents the opening movement anticipated, the last movement Lento; Allegro revives in brooding, pastoral terms. The stormy Allegro projects sweep and dark conviction. Halfway through, we seem to hear echoes of Debussy’s Fetes and Respighi’s Pines of Rome. This music might provide excellent accompaniment to a cinematic Thomas Hardy novel.
John Ireland, co-incidentally, taught composition to Moeran. The E-flat Concerto (1930) seems to have been inspired by pianist Helen Perkin, in whom Ireland took a pseudo-romantic interest. Structurally, musicologists argue that the Concerto is set in two movements, the Lento espressivo’s moving directly into the Allegro giocoso. The recording (14 January 1942) lays out the Concerto in three distinct movements and their respective timings. Eileen Joyce (1908-1991) became the first major exponent of the Concerto; she played the work again in 1949 at a special concert in honor of Ireland. The jazzy, militant first movement In tempo moderato fuses elements from Ravel and jazz idioms with some virtuosic riffs and modal scales.  A clarinet solo and responsive horn might be quoting from Bolero. Joyce has her share of romantic arpeggios, but no significant melody besides Gershwin-esque or Prokofiev filigree arises out of the churning dialogues between piano and orchestra.
The opening sigh in the strings of the Lento might remind us of Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. The melody, earnest and melancholy, ushers un Joyce with some moody, blues-like chords in the manner of an improvisation. The nocturne expands rather delicately, a violin sequence making a brief duet before a woodwind episode. The keyboard writing crosses Debussy harmony with Rachmaninov sentiment. The tympani and snare drum enter to announce the fanfare that sets the piano to a brief series of runs in lieu of a cadenza. The Allegro giocoso likes the tympani to add weight to the proceedings, though the secondary melody opts for an exotic atmosphere, a bit of Borodin or Hollywood’s idea of Arabian sands. The energy picks again, reminiscent of Poulenc or lithe Prokofiev. Suddenly, the music becomes a violin-piano sonata and a brief cadenza for Joyce follows. Horn and piano move through some liquid effects to the snappy coda, all bustle a la Ravel or presages of Prokofiev’s C Major Concerto.
—Gary Lemco

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