It is such a long time since I have seen the name of John Ireland on a concert programme that it was very refreshing to see Tom Hick’s lunchtime programme almost totally dedicated to this composer that his pupil Benjamin Britten described as having “ a strong personality but weak character.”
I was just a child with my first piano lessons when confronted with a charming little piece called “April.”
It was as a teenager with advanced studies with Sidney Harrison that one day he pulled out his store of music in the garage of his beautiful riverside house in Chiswick the music to Sea Fever.A song setting of the poem of John Masefield.The object of the lesson was to make the music speak on the piano with the same inflections that a singer might have used.
A great lesson indeed and one that I have never forgotten and is inextricably linked to Ireland.
The two works presented today and that are on his new CD supported by the John Ireland Trust were both inspired by his love for the Channel Islands .
”Island Spell” was written in Jersey in 1912 and “Sarnia” (The Roman name for Guernsey) was written on Guernsey in 1940 shortly before he was evacuated before it became occupied by the Germans.
Tom Hicks too is from Guernsey so who better to understand the very personal musical style of Ireland known by many as the “English Impressionist.”
Tom immediately showed his musical credentials in “Island Spell” with the washes of sound and a magical sense of colour from hands that seemed only to hover above the keys.
A deep rumbling reminiscent of Debussy’s Cathedral Engloutie with magical sounds disappearing on high with a delicacy and sensitivity that seemed to bely his rather unmoving body involvement.
I was told by a viola playing friend from Guernsey that children receive free lesson on instruments in the schools there so it was hardly surprising that as a child and after early lessons with Mervyn Grand he was accepted at Chetham’s School of Music where he studied with that superb trainer of so many talented young musicians: Murray McLachlan.
He won many prestigious prizes on the way to taking the Gold Medal and the Peter Frankl Piano Prize at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Since 2015 he has been studying in America with Boris Berman at Yale and James Giles at the Northwestern Bienen School of Music.
With many concerto engagements to his name and two complete cycles of Rachmaninov’s Concertos it was to his enormous credit that he chose to dedicate his London recital today to his homeland where he was headed straight after the concert.
The final piece on the programme today was one of Ireland’s large scale pieces for piano. “Sarnia.”
In three movements the middle of which was inspired by some verses of Victor Hugo who also had come under the spell of the island.
A transcendental technique allowed him to throw off the many technical challenges with ease and allow the folk idioms and rather pastoral atmosphere to sing out unimpeded.The beautiful long lines in the last Song of Springtides were sustained by lush harmonies that were never allowed to overpower the overall architectural shape.
Six of the 12 seasons by Tchaikowsky were played with the utmost clarity and a real sense of finger legato that allowed the nostalgic melodies and Gopak type dance rhythms to create just the relief from Ireland’s rather personal view of his beloved islands.