Gould Piano Trio

John Ireland: Piano Trios

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British composer John Ireland put a distinctive stamp on the late-Edwardian style in which he was trained, featuring quiet lyricism, ornamental hints of pentatonicism that could carry a great many meanings, and spiritual and social ideas. He maintained a consistent voice, through several eras of musical change, until late in a long life. The Piano Trio No. 2 in E major of 1917, heard here but not often otherwise outside Britain, exemplifies an antiwar streak in Ireland's thinking, and it's well worth a revival. The booklet refers to a point in the music that Ireland said was meant to evoke soldiers coming over the top of a trench, and indeed the entire work is permeated with polyphonic writing that has at once an implacable quality and a feeling of anger. The other two piano trios included are also worth hearing. The Piano Trio No. 3 in E major is dated 1938, but draws on material composed shortly before World War I. Ireland's first work in the medium, the Phantasie Trio in A minor of 1908, put him on the British musical map; it took second place in a contest that specified a single-movement structure in recognition of the Renaissance-era English fantasy, but then backed off from this innovative idea and insisted on four conventional sonata movements, run together into one. This Ireland accomplished, with a wealth of melodic invention throughout. The CD is rounded out by a quartet of little violin-and-piano pieces, insubstantial salon products but each with distinctive workmanship. The Holy Boy for violin and piano may refer to a poem of the day about an imaginary conversation between Jesus and Cupid. That's a little slice of the cultural and musical world Ireland inhabited, but it was a world he transcended.

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