Ireland – Piano Music Volume 3

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WORKS: Rhapsody (1915); Two Pieces; Four Preludes; Two Pieces; Ballade of London Nights; The Almond Trees; Three Dances; First Rhapsody etc
PERFORMER: Mark Bebbington (piano)


 Volume 3 of Mark Bebbington’s survey for Somm of the piano works by John Ireland (1879-1962) is well up to the standard of the previous discs in this series, both for quality of playing and for intrinsic musical interest.

The cunningly-shaped programme opens with an exceptionally powerful performance of the 1915 Rhapsody, one of Ireland’s most important piano works. But it ends with the world premiere recording of another, until now unheard Rhapsody, which has been designated First Rhapsody by the John Ireland Trust. 

Dating from 1906, at 12 minutes’ duration this seems to be Ireland’s most substantial single movement for solo piano. The furious rhetoric of its first half, even though of a kind he renounced in his later years, has a Rachmaninovian grandeur that is really exciting, and the subsequent subsidence into twilight lyricism is already prophetic of the later composer.

In addition to more familiar items, Bebbington also includes the attractive and rarely-heard Three Dances originally written and published in 1913 as children’s pieces: ‘Gipsy Dance’, ‘Country Dance’ and ‘Reapers’ Dance’.

His powers of subtle characterisation and sensitive range of touch are shown in his extremely sensitive portrayal of ‘February’s Child’ (one of Two Pieces), and in the elusive range of moods covered in the underrated Ballade of London Nights


Despite strong competing accounts of most of these works from Eric Parkin (Lyrita) and John Lenehan (Naxos), I continue to feel that Bebbington is providing us with the well-nigh definitive take on this quintessentially English repertoire. Calum MacDonald