Working on this sequence of songs formed a significant element in Ireland's emotional and musical recuperation from the shock of his disastrous marriage. This is no cycle, rather a loose assemblage of songs reflecting aspects of human and religious experience. The Advent expresses the ordinary human side to the extraordinary fact of the incarnation of Christ. Hymn for a Child is a deliciously witty retelling of the Biblical story of the young Jesus confounding the elders in the temple, complete with rhymes so dreadfully droll they are delightful. The song ends with an ironic (child's?) prayer for help in emulating such discreet behaviour as displayed by Jesus, the 'nicely brought up child'. My Fair is a passionate love song, though one which is fully aware of the finite nature of that love. Its complexities are then cleaned off the palate by the beautiful, wistful lines of The Salley Gardens, about a youthful experience of being rejected in love. The Soldier's Return pictures the arrival home to his girl of a soldier—on foot, as the tramping, martial accompaniment would make clear to us even if the words were indecipherable. Lastly, The Scapegoat is a laugh at the expense of 'righteous' men in town snootily pleased with themselves for finding redemption from sin through the services of the goat. But it is the goat (as the skipping, jumping accompaniment makes clear) who really is free. Ireland was the pianist for a performance of this song during a Festival of Britain concert at London's Wigmore Hall in 1951. By all accounts he had the audience belly-laughing at his playing of the accompaniment under the words 'Dances on, and on, and on!'.
from notes by Andrew Green © 1999
‘Perhaps these discs will at last bring the best of his songs back into live recital’ (BBC Music Magazine)
‘Three excellent young British singers share the treasures recorded here under the sage aegis of Graham Johnson. Lisa Milne's bright, keen soprano is ...» More