IRELAND A Downland Suite. The Overlanders (Yates)
Written as a test piece for the 1932 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, John Ireland’s A Downland Suite remains one of his most delightfully melodious and big-hearted creations, boasting a particularly glorious slow movement (Elegy) whose memorable main theme returns in stirring fashion towards the work’s close. Nine years later, Ireland adapted the Elegy and third-movement Minuet for string orchestra; and, in 1978, the composer’s pupil, Geoffrey Bush, completed his arrangement of all four movements. Now Martin Yates is the first to transcribe the work for full symphony orchestra. A decent job he’s made of it, too, though the dollops of side drum and cymbal in the Prelude and Rondo finale (following the example of Ireland’s original instrumentation) may strike some (myself included) as a bit too much of a good thing.
In September 1942 Ireland was given just 10 days to come up with some incidental music for a BBC radio production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, a task he found far from congenial. Graham Parlett has gone back to the fragments housed in the British Library but – despite the skill with which Ireland deploys his limited forces as well as some occasional flashes of sparky invention in, say, the Overture, ‘Lupercalia Music’ and concluding ‘Funeral Music’ – not even his formidable editorial skills can make it seem anything other than a frustratingly bitty sequence.
Happily, The Overlanders is an entirely different proposition. Parlett’s magnificent restoration of Ireland’s 1946 film score in its entirety excitingly complements Charles Mackerras’s five-movement concert suite and Geoffrey Bush’s effective reworking of material published as Two Symphonic Studies (both were recorded by Boult and the LPO for Lyrita, 5/07 and 6/07). Aficionados will enjoy spotting various thematic and stylistic fingerprints: the plaintive cor anglais tune in ‘Departure of Ship’ – the sole cue in the composer’s own hand – harks back to the haunting 1930 Legend for piano and orchestra; and the gorgeous ‘Love Theme’ emerges as a close cousin to the lyrical second subject in the Prelude of A Downland Suite. Elsewhere there’s plenty of satisfyingly gritty and muscular inspiration, not to mention a pleasing sense of spectacle, in ‘Mountain Crossing’ and ‘Water Stampede’ (superbly roistering horns). It’s fascinating, too, to read in Parlett’s copious annotation that both ‘Catching the Brumbies’ and ‘Breaking the Brumbies’ were in fact orchestrated by Alan Rawsthorne, and that Roy Douglas assisted Ernest Irving (conductor of the original soundtrack with the Philharmonia) in the scoring of ‘Night Stampede’.
Enthusiastic performances from the RSNO under Martin Yates’s baton, vividly captured in turn by the Dutton microphones. Fans of the composer and film-music buffs alike needn’t hold back.