IRELAND Piano Concerto. Legend. Rhapsody No 1
I am delighted to welcome to the catalogue a splendid new recording of what is undoubtedly the finest of all British piano concertos, which has not deserved its neglect since it was frequently heard at the Proms in the 1930s and ’40s. Worthy to rank with the finest 20th-century works in this form, its poetic lyricism and distinctive melodic inspiration are in the ageless tradition of the greatest English music. After its jiggy first movement it offers one of the most gently beautiful slow movements of any piano concerto written last century, and its bright finale has an indelible main theme that you won’t be able to get out of your head once the work concludes. John Lenehan has already recorded a great deal of Ireland’s piano music for Naxos with distinction and he is again at his finest here. The Legend (written only three years after the concerto) is almost equally memorable. In both works the RLPO is on first-class form under the understanding direction of John Wilson, who is renowned as a passionate advocate of English music (shown again in the excellent anthology ‘Made in Britain’ praised below on page 69), and the Naxos recording is in the demonstration bracket.
In the solo items, written earlier, Lenehan proves equally responsive. The First Rhapsody, a really impressive work, is passionately virtuoso, and the evocative Pastoral makes a pleasing foil to it. Indian Summer brings a brief but typically expressive song without words. The early Sea Idyll is in three contrasted sections, rhapsodic rather than pictorial, and the Three Dances are folksy, simple but fetchingly contrasted, the closing ‘Reapers’ Dance’ engagingly vigorous, and again the Naxos recording is very real and present. A CD not to be missed by all lovers of English music.