Ireland: Songs: Five Poems by Thomas Hardy; Three Songs to Poems by Thomas Hardy; We’ll to the Woods; Sea Fever etc.

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COMPOSERS: Ireland
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Ireland
WORKS: Songs: Five Poems by Thomas Hardy; Three Songs to Poems by Thomas Hardy; We’ll to the Woods; Sea Fever etc.
PERFORMER: Roderick Williams (baritone), Iain Burnside (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570467

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Another irresistible volume in The English Song Series: a compilation of John Ireland which reveals the sheer breadth of emotional experience and variegated piano writing within his songs. The song texts are available online only. But, with Roderick Williams, who needs them? Every word is tasted, pungently flavoured, and given vigorous new life, with Iain Burnside’s piano playing sentient to every second of Williams’s singing. The real treats here are Ireland’s settings of Thomas Hardy: Three Songs from 1925 which tune into the music pulsing and trilling through the verse itself, and are acutely sensitive to Hardy’s questioning mode. And the Five Poems of 1926 release Hardy’s anguished subtext in their harmonic scoring: their dark and mordant tensions are perfectly recreated by Williams and Burnside. There are classics here, such as ‘Sea Fever’, ‘Vagabond’ and ‘I have Twelve Oxen’; and there are period curiosities, too. Ireland’s pair of 1928 settings by Arthur Symons and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, ‘Tryst’ and ‘During Music’, are languidly impassioned. And Ireland’s three responses to the verse of Housman (one of them, most eloquently, for piano alone) are heavy with the weight of loss and pain. There’s always more to Ireland than meets the ear and eye – and Williams and Burnside make sure we know it. Hilary Finch