On 14 January 1942 Eileen Joyce (1912–1991) was the soloist in the first recording of Ireland’s Piano Concerto, with the Hallé orchestra under Leslie Heward. It was perhaps fitting that this took place in Manchester (the composer’s birthplace).
By then an internationally-renowned concert pianist, she had made her way to Europe from an upbringing in the small Tasmanian village of Zeehan, followed by life on the goldfields of Western Australia. Joyce studied initially at the Loreto convent in Perth, a school with a strong musical tradition, and was then encouraged by Percy Grainger to leave to study in Leipzig. Eventually she travelled to London to become one of Tobias Matthay’s pupils.
There are many curious little coincidences surrounding Joyce’s debut. This took place at the Proms in 1930 – the same year in which Helen Perkin made her first Proms appearance in the premiere of Ireland’s Concerto. Joyce was the soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no.3, the same work that had influenced Ireland in his writing.
Joyce’s 1942 recording is not the only surviving record of her performance of this piece, and was by no means the only time she played it. On 22 August 1948, with the Philharmonia and Victor Hochhauser, she appeared in two concertos at the Royal Albert Hall – those by Grieg and Ireland. Four weeks later, with Basil Cameron conducting, she played it at the Last Night of the Proms 1948. However, another more permanent record is available. On 10 September 1949 a special Prom to celebrate Ireland’s 70th birthday was recorded, Joyce the soloist with the LPO conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. You can hear her recording of the first movement here: Ireland’s Concerto.