John Ireland Sarnia: An Island Sequence
John Ireland The Island Spell
Tchaikovsky The Seasons Opus 37a
Tom Hicks, piano
At first sight, pairing a twentieth-century British composer with a nineteeth-century Russian romantic seems an unusual combination, but in this debut disc by young British pianist Tom Hicks the music of these two composers sits well together, creating an enjoyable recital disc of music inspired by nature and infused with pastoralism.
The disc opens with ‘Sarnia’, whose first two movements were composed in 1940 while John Ireland was staying on Guernsey, shortly before it was occupied by the Germans. There is a nice connection between music and pianist here as Tom Hicks hails from Guernsey; ‘Sarnia’ is the Roman name for the island. This atmospheric, dramatic and expansive work portrays aspects of the island and Hicks’ sensitive attention to detail and understated bravura brings this music fully to life with colour, spacious expression, pungent sonorities, and a tender poignancy when required.
‘The Island Spell’, inspired by Jersey and the earliest of Ireland’s Channel Islands pieces, is evocative and impressionistic, redolent of Debussy’s perfumed harmonies and filigree traceries (Ireland was described as an “English Impressionist”), its delicate textures rendered with grace and clarity.
Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Seasons’ follow, a suite of 12 miniatures which encapsulate the composer’s distinct style in microcosm. These characterful, contrasting works are the perfect canvas for Hick to paint a full palette of colours and expression, capturing their intimacy and wistfulness, with a keen ear for details and textures.
Overall, an enjoyable and engaging debut recording from this impressive young pianist.