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Ireland: Orchestral Works

Sinfonia of London/John Wilson (Chandos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Ireland
Satyricon; A Downland Suite; Mai-Dun; The Forgotten Rite; A London Overture; The Holy Boy; Epic March
Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5293 (CD/SACD)   67:16 mins

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While a compendium programme of this kind will appeal to beachcombers and dedicated collectors alike, it’s fair enough to put up a gentle warning flag about some of the contents. The dullest item comes first: the overture Satyricon is a limp product of Ireland’s old-ish age, and sounds here as if no one involved could manage to get beyond the feeling of a decently competent play-through. A London Overture, too, conforms overmuch to a now dated This-is-The-BBC-Light-Programme syndrome.

The good news is that everywhere else, there are excellent surprises on the upside. The symphonic rhapsody Mai-Dun – Thomas Hardy’s name for the iron-age Maiden Castle earthworks in Dorsetshire – relates to Bax’s flair for colouring rural scene-painting with a haunted, even spectral atmosphere, but Ireland explores similar musical territory in a way that is memorably his own. The same is true of The Forgotten Rite, inspired by the Channel Islands landscape of Jersey. A Downland Suite, played in a string-orchestra arrangement (partly by Ireland himself) of its brass-band original, brims with invention and features a beautifully expressive slow movement, ‘Elegy’. And Epic March, written at the behest of the Ministry of Information during the Second World War, is a far more impressive and individual creation than its fitting-the-patriotic-bill context implies (though it does that very well too).

John Wilson’s expertise in this repertoire secures crisp, mint-condition performances whenever the music allows. Less convincing is the over-spacious recorded sound, which too often takes some of the edge off the vividness of the playing.

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Malcolm Hayes