Ireland: Phantasie Trio

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WORKS: Phantasie Trio; Piano Trios Nos 2 & 3; Cavatina; Berceuse; Bagatelle; The Holy Boy
PERFORMER: Gould Piano Trio
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570507


In recent years Naxos has been issuing an impressive series of recordings of John Ireland’s chamber music; this is probably the most important, for the three piano trios are perhaps his most significant chamber works.

Admittedly the first of them, the 1908 Phantasie Trio, conforming to the English ‘Phantasie’ form encouraged by WW Cobbett’s chamber-music competitions, is still redolent of his early Brahmsianism; but certainly the Second (1917), whose eventful single movement reflects his response to the Great War, and the four-movement Third, are vintage Ireland.

Especially No. 3, which evolved over 25 years from its original form as Ireland’s fine (but suppressed) Clarinet Trio of 1913 (I reviewed the world premiere recording of its reconstruction, also on Naxos, in May); among numerous re-writings the Piano Trio, which became a kind of summa of Ireland’s best thoughts, acquired a new and especially intense slow movement.

These excellent performances are distinguished by beauty of tone and a rhythmic spring and alertness that has not always been Ireland’s lot: too often rival ensembles have fallen into a comfortable lollopy tramp for his faster movements, but the Gould Trio bring out the music’s rhythmic variety, the nervous strength in the way the lines – admirably balanced in Naxos’s recording – are made to work against each other.


The only current competing account of all three trios is by Lydia Mordkovitch, Karine Georgian and Ian Brown in a Chandos box of Ireland’s complete chamber music: their interpretations are passionate and deeply-felt, but I feel the Goulds have the edge in both polish and recording. The coupling here of four violin-piano miniatures, three of them virtually salon pieces and the fourth the perennially popular Holy Boy, is a pleasant counterweight but adds little to the overall achievement. Calum MacDonald