IRELAND Music for String Orchestra
Originally fashioned as a test piece for the 1932 National Brass Band Championships, John Ireland’s A Downland Suite (expertly retooled for string orchestra by the composer and his pupil Geoffrey Bush) is always welcome and felicitously served on this latest anthology from Warwickshire’s Orchestra of the Swan under David Curtis, set down in the mellow acoustic of the Townsend Hall in Shipston-on-Stour. In the Lento espressivo Elegy Curtis uncovers greater anguish than does Boult on his classic Lyrita recording from December 1965 (which radiates a typically unforced, tender glow all its own), whereas in the ensuing Minuet it’s Julian Lloyd Webber and a richer-toned ECO (also on Naxos, 4/15) who perhaps more consistently tug at the heartstrings. That said, I do love the thrusting vigour of Curtis’s Prelude (precisely Allegro energico as marked), and his shapely and infectiously spirited account overall is a most winning one.
Proceedings are launched with Matthew Forbes’s sympathetic orchestration of Ireland’s yearningly impassioned Cello Sonata from 1923, which successfully brings out this work’s kinship with the rugged tone-poem Mai-Dun (1921). That tireless champion of British music Raphael Wallfisch plays with full-throated eloquence; Curtis and company provide most sympathetic support. Of Graham Parlett’s six reworkings of solo piano pieces four are scored for cello and strings. All fall gratefully on the ear, though in the case of the exquisite ‘In a May Morning’ from Sarnia (1940 41) I do find it almost impossible to banish from my mind Ireland’s fastidiously idiomatic keyboard-writing.
By all means, then, investigate this very likeable survey – but don’t deprive yourself of experiencing the chamber and instrumental originals as well.