Robin Ireland remembers his father, the violist of the Allegri Quartet, who died on 14 February aged 100

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Violist Patrick Ireland

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Patrick Ireland, violist and founder member of the Allegri Quartet in 1954, died on 14 February, three months after celebrating his 100th birthday.

He was a Cornish lad, born in Helston, and his musical life started as a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral Choir School. After being trained as a bomber pilot in the war (mercifully too late to have to drop any bombs),  he studied  the violin  at the Royal College of Music, and with Max Rostal. At the RCM, he met the pianist Peggy Gray, who invited him into her practice room to play through the Brahms D minor Violin Sonata, and they married in 1948. They had 73 years together before Peggy’s death in 2021. 

Also in 1948, Patrick joined the Peter Gibbs Quartet. Peter was a genuine RAF ace, and notoriously demanding as a quartet leader. When the original violist left, Patrick stepped into that role. The  quartet disbanded in 1953, and Patrick seriously considered changing career, thinking of becoming a museum curator. William Pleeth, best remembered today as the teacher of Jacqueline du Pré, invited Patrick to try out with a new quartet, and Patrick agreed on condition that it was ‘just for fun’. After a second such meeting, his resistance broke down, and the Allegri Quartet was born. The members were Eli Goren, James Barton (a rare left-hander who bowed with his left arm), Patrick and William Pleeth. A year later, Patrick was able to buy a battered but beautiful sounding Amati viola, for £300! 

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The original line up of the Allegri Quartet: Eli Goren, James Barton, William Pleeth and Patrick Ireland

During the late 1950s, Patrick met Yehudi Menuhin and played with him in the Bath Festival Orchestra, which Menuhin directed. He performed Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola with Menuhin, and recorded Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no.6 with him, which has two solo violas, in 1959. Menuhin invited him to be the first viola teacher at his new school, the Menuhin School. Among his pupils were Simon Rowland-Jones and Nicholas Logie. 

Patrick’s presence as a violist in the Allegri Quartet was very strong. One was always aware of the viola part and the particularly beautiful tone he projected from the Amati viola. He was on a never-ending quest for deeper emotional expression in his playing. He stayed on in the quartet when Hugh Maguire took over as first violinist, and finally left in 1977. He then took on the position of assistant head of strings at the RNCM, but continued to play into his 70s, giving innumerable performances of String Quintet repertoire as second viola with many of the best-known UK Quartets, including the Lindsays, of whom his son Robin was violist. 

For the latter half of his life, furniture making became an increasingly big focus. He produced maybe a hundred superb and creative pieces, which will be a big part of his legacy along with his recordings.


All photos courtesy Robin Ireland

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