Melos Ensemble of London

John Ireland: Sextets, Trios & Sonatas for clarinet, cello & violin

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Here are three words not often heard together: English chamber music. Elgar, Rubbra, Tippet, and Vaughan Williams all wrote some, but their body of work in the intimate genres is far outweighed by their output of symphonies. Standing apart from this trend is John Ireland, who wrote only one concerto, few orchestral works, and no symphonies at all. Most of his extant instrumental oeuvre (that is, those works the intensely self-critical composer didn't consign to the flames) consists of chamber music. And aside from three small works for violin and piano and two early string quartets published posthumously, all of it is included on this three-disc Lyrita set. The first disc is given to the piano trios: the single-movement Phantasie Trio from 1908, the single-movement Trio No. 2 from 1917, and the four-movement Trio No. 3 from 1938. The second disc includes the early four-movement Sextet for clarinet, horn, and string quartet from 1898; the mature three-movement Sonata for cello and piano from 1924; and the very late single-movement Fantasy-Sonata for clarinet and piano from 1943. The third disc contains the two violin sonatas, the First composed in 1909 though revised in 1917 and the Second composed between 1915 and 1917. Because of Ireland's brilliant mind and intense self-criticism, every work here is first-rate. The Sextet is warmly colored, the Phantasie Trio is elusive, and the Cello Sonata contains an achingly beautiful poco largamente. Lastly, the Second Violin Sonata of 1917 is surely one of the most moving of English artistic reactions to the horrors of the First World War. The performances are uniformly excellent, and Lyrita's '70s stereo recordings are as real as sound reproduction gets.

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