Ireland: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2

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COMPOSERS: Ireland
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Cello Sonata
PERFORMER: Lucy Gould (violin), Alice Neary (cello), Benjamin Frith (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 79:05 mins

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John Ireland’s chamber music contains some of his ripest and most characteristic thoughts, and the two Violin Sonatas in particular, turbulent and passionate pieces both, were among the works which really made his reputation just before and during World War I.

They have done well on disc, too, with excellent previous accounts from Lydia Mordkovich (Chandos) and Paul Barritt (Hyperion), as well as Daniel Hope in No. 1 (ASV). 

Here they receive splendid advocacy from Lucy Gould and Benjamin Frith: there’s no gentility or emotional holding-back about these performances – the works are presented as big-boned, rough-hewn almost, in the Brahmsian tradition but infused with urgent contemporary feeling.

The exquisite large-scale ‘Romance’ that is the First Sonata’s slow movement, and the Second Sonata’s polarity of lament and activity, issuing at last in the playfulness of the finale, are finely brought out. 

Alice Neary’s account of the later, more compact but equally heartfelt Cello Sonata is similarly powerful, making much of its passionate lyricism while making light of its considerable technical difficulty.

Though all three performers are first-rate, throughout it’s Frith’s piano playing, the masterly way he unfolds both the rhetoric and the intricacy of Ireland’s taxing piano parts, that gives these performances a special verve.

I suspect he has studied Ireland’s own 78rpm recordings of the Violin Sonatas with Frederick Grinke and Albert Sammons, who gave the premiere of No. 2 (available as a historical issue on Dutton), though the recorded sound on this Naxos release is of course incomparably better. Calum MacDonald