Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950) spent a portion of his life studying folk music material of Ireland and this new release from Naxos 8.573106 reinforces that statement with a collection of five works, the last of which is a piano rhapsody performed by Benjamin Frith. This recording is by the Ulster orchestra under the baton of JoAnn Falletta, a combination that I’ve grown to look forward to in recent times. While her primary orchestra seems to be the Buffalo Philharmonic, releases which I also look forward to, she also spends a great deal of time with the very fine Ulster ensemble.

“Overture for a Masque” was commissioned in 1944 being written as entertainment for the soldiers. The work immediately begins with the brass offering a fanfare which is upbeat and lively reminding me of a series of curtain calls mixed in with some countryside material.  What is has to do with a mask is beyond me. The beginning fanfare is repeated at the end. The ending is one of those anti climatic ones where you think it has come to an end but not really. A very nice 9+ minute work that deserves more attention than it has gotten as this CD was the first time I had ever heard it although it has been recorded on several occasions.

“In the Mountain Country (1921),” an early work of Moeran while he was still a student, is definitely a babbling brook kind of overture. The oboe and reed section are definitely center stage as they transmit a feeling of peace and serenity. The brass takes the center stage in the mid portion of the overture offering a crescendo and harmony to the work. For the most part they take a back seat to the strings and reed section of the work. The work ends on a very quiet note and nicely segues into the first of three rhapsody’s also included on this CD.

“Rhapsody No. 1 (1922),” also a a work while he was still a student begins in an eerie fashion before it bursts into a crescendo that is startling on first listen. It segues into a nice folk melody from the bassoon sounding like the grandfather in Peter and the Wolf before continuing the romp with flutes, reeds and oboe. The middle section offers a lovely French horn, dreamy violins with a brief solo. The snare drum at the end of the work signals a crescendo and the end of the work.

“Rhapsody No. 2 (revised version 1941)” begins with a melody from the bassoon. This rhapsody is filled with those wonderful Irish folk melodies that put a warm spot into your heart. Rousing ending.

“Rhapsody No. 3 (1943)” features the addition of a piano which enhances the piece with delicate passages as well as swirling virtuoso type material. The piano passages were written for a patron Harriet Cohen to perform which she did in the premier performance with the BBC, Adrian Boult conducting. Several minutes longer than the previous two, the final few minutes are devoted to the piano and this is where the showy type material of the work is revealed.

It has been said that the Ulster orchestra tends to be lacking in fullness, being a bit thin on occasion. This is not the case with this recording. Falletta and the orchestra have done there homework and this is a top notch CD worthy of your collection.

Track Listing:

1. Overture for a Masque (9:27)

2. In the Mountain Country (6:24)

3. Rhapsody No. 1 in F major (11:26)

4. Rhapsody No. 2 in E major (12:17)

5. Rhapsody in F sharp  major for piano (17:32)

Total Time is 57:06