Listening "blind" to this disc -- that is, without knowing the name of the composer -- when would one begin to guess the composer's nationality? Not in the first piece, the symphonic prelude Tritons from 1905: the composer could be any of the less prominent continental composers of the fin de siècle -- Diepenbrock, say, or Karlowicz. One might begin to suspect his nationality in the pastoral woodwind writing of the second theme of the second piece, the prelude The Forgotten Rite, or perhaps in the militant percussion writing of the third piece, the symphonic rhapsody Mai-Dun. But not until the fourth piece, A London Overture, would the composer's nationality stand revealed by his deeply affectionate musical portrait of the British capital that sounds quintessentially English in its witty themes, wry harmonies, and robust rhythms.
With the composer's nationality settled, however, how could one even begin to guess his identity -- what, in other words, is there about the music on this Lyrita disc to indicate that the composer is a fellow named John Ireland? Not much, really: Ireland is an accomplished composer who can write striking themes, shape forms with complete skill, and score harmonies with consummate craft, but his music lacks a discernible compositional profile. In these dedicated performances by Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic, Ireland's music has everything going for it -- big tunes, brilliant colors, cogent forms, strong rhythms -- but ultimately nothing sticks in the memory except the jaunty main theme of A London Overture. While fans of modernist English orchestral music who already know Vaughan Williams, Holst, Walton, Bax, and Bridge may want to give Ireland a try before sampling Brian. Listeners unfamiliar with the aforementioned composers may wish to try them out first. Lyrita's 1966 and 1971 stereo sound is clean, deep, and detailed.