Largely due to the efforts of the young pianists of today, chief amongst them, Mark Bebbington, John Ireland is at last being recognised as a major influence in British music. Educated by Stanford at the Royal College of Music in the tradition of Brahms and Dvorak, he subsequently absorbed some of the influence of Debussy and Ravel but although he always remained curious about later compositional styles, he remained essentially a Romantic throughout his career.
Although fascinated by the landscape and associations of various parts of southern England and the Channel Islands, he remained apart from the English folksong movement. He was a proficient pianist and organist. Various of his orchestral and piano pieces were inspired by English literature and the atmosphere of pagan pre-history, and have an other-worldly quality and bittersweet chromaticism which gives them a unique flavour.
Firstly, a few words about the important premiere recording included on our Vol 3, Rhapsody 1906. At one stage Ireland withdrew all the works he had written as a student and it was only towards the end of his life that he was persuaded to allow some of them to be performed, recorded and published. The Rhapsody (dated London, Jan. 16 1906) must have been in his possession at the time of his death in 1962 and it’s significant that he did not destroy it. The work shows the piano style of his formative years, brilliant, virtuosic and passionate, calling to mind Rachmaninov (allegro appassionato) followed by a calmer theme marked dolce, cantando. As far as we know, the work has never been performed in public and we are proud to be able to include it here, for the first time.
Among first piano pieces to survive Ireland’s intensely self-critical standards (from 1913) were The Almond Trees recalling an evocative soundworld close to that of French impressionism and the Four Preludes (The Undertone, Obsession and the ever-popular The Holy Boy, together with the rhapsodical Fire of Spring). The largest piece to appear during World War I however, was his Rhapsody of 1915, a substantial work with two main contrasting themes, one assertive and rugged, followed by a pastoral and reflective theme. April and Bergomask published as Two Pieces,were both written in 1925, April opening with a tranquil phrase rising to a virtuosic climax is followed by the dance-like Bergomask.
Ballade of London Nights was left unfinished by Ireland and it was not until his friend and executor , Mrs. Nora Kirby, was discussing it with pianist Alan Rowlands after the composer’s death that it was decided to repeat the opening section by way of completion, a procedure often used by Ireland in many of his smaller pieces, albeit with harmonic twists and decorations. The Three Rustic Dances (Gipsy Dance, Country Dance and Reaper’s Dance) are among the charming, easier pieces written in 1913 as educational music for children.
The delicate and tender February’s Child followed by Aubade breathing a breezy, open-air freshness, (published as Two Pieces), were published later, in 1931. Among the ones written later is also Ireland’s Prelude in E flat (1924), one of his most deeply felt pieces. This was inspired by a poem of the same name by Swinburne within his Songs before Sunrise. It’s about youth, and the passing of pleasure and passion, a subject very central to Ireland’s emotional outlook on life.
The critical plaudits which have greeted Mark Bebbington’s performances and recordings have singled him out as a young British pianist of the rarest refinement and maturity. Increasingly recognised as a champion of British music, Mark has recorded exclusively for SOMM “New Horizons” label to unanimous critical acclaim.
One of his most recent CDs, released in November 2009, is a premiere recording of Bax’s Piano Concertino coupled with Ireland’s Piano concerto and Legend with the Orchestra of the Swan and David Curtis. A disc of British Piano concertos recorded in 2009 with the CBSO and Howard Williams, has attracted high critical acclaim.
Four consecutive discs have each earned Bebbington 5***** in BBC Music Magazine.
On This Recording
- 2 Pieces: February’s Child
- 2 Pieces: Aubade
- 4 Preludes: No. 1. The Undertone
- 4 Preludes: No. 2. Obsession
- 4 Preludes: No. 3. The Holy Boy
- 4 Preludes: No. 4. Fire of Spring
- 2 Pieces: No. 1. April
- 2 Pieces: No. 2. Bergomask
- The Ballade of London Nights
- The Almond Tree
- 3 Dances: No. 1. Gypsy Dance
- 3 Dances: No. 2. Country Dance
- 3 Dances: No. 3. Reapers’ Dance
- : Prelude in E-Flat Major
- First Rhapsody: First Rhapsody in F-Sharp Minor