Three Musicians Display Empathy for John Ireland’s Music

United KingdomUnited Kingdom John Ireland, Brahms: Julian Lloyd Webber (cello), Peter Cigleris (clarinet) John Lenehan (piano), Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery, UK 11.10.2012 (PRB)

John Ireland: Cello Sonata in G minor; Fantasy Sonata for clarinet and piano
Brahms: Trio for piano, clarinet and cello in A minor, Op 114

John Lenehan (piano), Julian Lloyd Webber (cello), Peter Cigleris (clarinet),
Photo: Roger Viles

Octogenarian, Jeanie Moore MVO, despite her diminutive stature, punches considerably above her weight when fighting for the cause of classical music in the Plymouth area. At a time when local funding is getting increasingly more difficult to source, even in a city of almost 260,000 inhabitants situated in the South West of England, she once again has managed to bring one of the UK’s leading cellists back to the area, as part of her 20th International Concert Series, an on-going programme that has seen a large number of acclaimed artists come to the city over many years.

It was, however, no accident that she chose Julian Lloyd Webber for this special concert to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the death of British composer, John Ireland’s. As she announced to the sell-out audience at the start of the recital, as a concert-organiser of many years’ standing, she had been able to give Lloyd Webber the opportunity for one of his earliest recitals, when he was a mere twenty-two years old.

There was, though a further connection in that Lloyd Webber had recently agreed to become President of Plymouth Music Accord (PMA), a local charitable organisation with a remit to promote the appreciation and performance of music, especially among the young in the city area.

As if to cement this association even further, one young person to benefit early on from PMA’s Young Musicians’ Platform initiative was local clarinettist and now a professional artist in his own right, Peter Cigleris, who joined Lloyd Webber and highly-acclaimed pianist and chamber musician John Lenehan for this special event.

Having actually compiled the programme notes for this recital, there’s often nothing more irritating than hearing artists merely regurgitate, by way of a spoken preamble, what the listener is already at liberty to read in his or her own time.

But when this consists of a succinctly-delivered anecdotal snippet, then such a brief introduction can immediately break the ice, too, even if Lloyd Webber’s reception was already of the warmest kind possible.

Lloyd Webber went on to mention a connection between John Ireland, and the Welsh author and mystic, Arthur Machen. Ireland was apparently on London’s Charing Cross station when ‘The House of Souls’ caught his eye at a book kiosk. With his interest in long-gone races, rites and prehistory, the composer immediately identified with the stories within, both in content and style, and subsequently it became a regular complaint by him that critics could never appreciate his music, unless they had first read and understood Machen’s work.

It is customary for solo pianists and vocalists to play from memory, but for other instrumentalists the situation is more flexible. However there was absolutely no doubt that Lloyd Webber’s decision to play Ireland’s Cello Sonata without the barrier of a music-stand, added immensely to the expressive richness of the performance, and all the more so, in linking the work’s musical content with the essential spirit of Machen’s writing. Here both player and composer were absolutely as one, in a performance that was technically unblemished, with superb dynamic control and attention to detail – string-playing of the very highest order.

While clarinettist, Cigleris, opted to use music for his performance of Ireland’s Fantasy Sonata, never once did the physical presence of the score interfere with an equally emotionally-charged reading. Here, too, was immaculate playing, in a work of highly-concentrated ideas, couched in a richly-romantic garb, and unquestionably showing the composer’s clear love for the instrument, to him the finest of the woodwind section.

Although the evening was primarily all about John Ireland, it gave all three artists a wonderful opportunity to combine, and there can hardly be a better vehicle for their respective instruments than Brahms’s Trio for clarinet and cello in A minor.

From the opening bars it was obvious that there was a real empathy between each instrumentalist, which showed not only in an impeccable ensemble, but where shared musical shaping and phrasing played such an important part, throughout each of its four highly-characterised movements.

Furthermore, it emphasised the outstanding performance throughout the evening from pianist, Lenehan, who played with immense power yet great sensitivity too, managing to coax as much as possible from the not-overly responsive small grand, with its restricted tonal palette. Lenehan was undoubtedly the evening’s unsung hero – something clearly very much appreciated by his listeners.

Philip R Buttall