Ireland: String Quartet No. 1 in D minor; String Quartet No. 2 in C minor; The Holy Boy

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COMPOSERS: Ireland
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 in D minor; String Quartet No. 2 in C minor; The Holy Boy
PERFORMER: Holywell Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1017
The Holywell Ensemble has rapidly developed into one of the most important chamber music groups on the British musical scene. Here it performs string quartets, but its flexible personnel can adapt to other instrumental combinations, from sextets to trios. However, the quality of the playing encountered here would do credit to an established, full-time quartet. And with the help of the beautifully balanced ASV recording, they do John Ireland proud.

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Lewis Foreman’s informative notes reveal precisely why the Ireland quartets are hardly known. They both date from 1897, when the 18-year-old composer was studying at the Royal College of Music. His teacher Hubert Parry described the First Quartet as ‘capital’, yet its next performance took place in 1963, a year after Ireland’s death. One can understand the enthusiasm, since the music is skilfully written and very much in the style of Brahms, whom Parry revered.

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In fact the Second Quartet has more individuality, though this, too, disappeared into obscurity, heard again only in 1960. But it does contain distinctive material and some strong development. By contrast, The Holy Boy, which completes the programme, is one of Ireland’s most celebrated instrumental pieces, a touching miniature which receives a sensitive performance here. Terry Barfoot