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What a cornucopia this is for admirers of Ireland’s music, as the 50th anniversary of his death is marked this year. The book – 500 pages and 32 contributors – is divided into five main sections, the most substantial of which are ‘The Man, his Circle and his Times’ and ‘The Music of John Ireland’.

The latter includes a chapter on every genre. Editor Lewis Foreman covers the orchestral and choral-orchestral music, providing sympathetic accounts of each work. Two musicians closely associated with Ireland’s music – Alan Rowlands and Eric Parkin – contribute valuable chapters on the composer’s ‘musical fingerprints’ and the piano music respectively. Charles Markes’ chapter on the songs – a genre of the greatest importance in Ireland’s output – deserves special mention for his full and most sensitive account of each one. To quote from his remarks on Tutto è sciolto: ‘27 bars of the most deeply felt music, its complete emotional insight belies its apparent simplicity, and a hovering, pendulous atmosphere is all-pervading’. A rather different view of this James Joyce setting is offered by Roderick Williams, but that is one advantage of a book such as this.

Some of the most compelling entries on Ireland the man are by Freda Swain (very frank), Fiona Richards and Geoffrey Bush (delightfully entertaining). Robert Matthew-Walker contributes a typically comprehensive John Ireland on Record, while two reminiscences by that fine but now neglected author Jocelyn Brooke are very welcome. The formidably protective Norah Kirby, Ireland’s housekeeper, is yet another essential contributor. Overlapping of material is inevitable but, as the admirable Lewis Foreman writes, ‘A controlled measure of repetition is preferable to compromising the integrity of any specific chapter’.

A discography and select bibliography are included, and a priceless 79-minute CD of historical recordings – Ireland’s voice, Ireland as pianist, Ireland as conductor, songs recorded in the composer’s lifetime by Peter Dawson, Betty Chester, Roy Henderson and others, and his Sonatina played by Helen Perkin. Many music examples and some wonderful photographs enhance this splendid, thoroughly recommendable book.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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