on 28 October 2000
Parry struggled to find his voice at a time when English music had been moribund since Handel's era. Just as he was maturing, Elgar sprang out of the blue and more or less eclipsed him. Undoubtedly Elgar was the greater composer, so it was very tough on Parry. Not that Parry would have worried one bit - he was too much of a collegiate person to worry about his own ego. Formerly described as second rate, we now have good recordings and can reassess what these critics said. I think they are very wrong. A very individual voice emerged over time. There is an Elgarian sweep and nobilimente - and who came first? I have to conclude that Elgar owes a lot to Parry. The fifth is his last symphony(1912). The thematic material is very strong, very Parry (he knew how to write a tune - see Jerusalem) and he knows exactly how to build and relax climaxes, and develop his material. He certainly does not have the mastery of orchestration that Elgar or Strauss had at this time but it is certainly not amateur or ineffective. Perhaps in the 3rd movement there is too much of the landler which perhaps shows he is still too closely tied to German models for an English composer. The beginning of the last movement, with its chamber quality, shows he was not quite oblivious to modern orchestration. In the end, it is the sheer quality of thematic invention and his handling of this material that makes this a fine symphony. When Sir Adrian Boult was about retire, EMI said he could record anything he liked. He chose this symphony. Why? A prominent (I will not say distinguised) critic reviewed the LP and said the score ought to be stuck back on the dusty shelf whence it came. Listen to this CD and see how misguided he was. The symphonic poem From Death to Life (1914) dates from two years later. This a based on a portentious, memorable and elegiac brass theme and its extension. It is noble and affecting and very Parry, exemplifying again his fecundity with thematic material. This is a movement you always want to go on and on. The Via Vitae is Elgarian and British Empire. Maybe this did suggest life to the British in 1914. The final piece on this disc is the Elegy for Brahms (1897). This is quite exquisite and is a small masterpiece, though not like Brahms. The opening is so intensely expressive as to recall Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht. The ending is quite magical, such is his control of our emotions. The performances by the LPO under Matthias Bamert are superb and the recording is outstanding.
This disc, very well recorded in 1991, brings together three works that have been neglected since they were written. The Elegy to Brahms was not offered for performance by Parry and is his deeply felt tribute to the death of a hero as he put it. The 'From Death to Life' two part symphonic poem from 1914 received only one performance which may reflect the war years situation more than the value of the music. The symphony received a number of performances but has since fallen into complete neglect.
Parry had the misfortune to live at a time when Elgar's star was very much in the ascendency. Elgar undoubtedly caught the mood of the nation in a way that parry did not and there simply was not enough emotional room for both to exist side by side at that time in England. Parry was also rather of an academic turn of mind and perhaps did not instinctively know how to promote himself to best advantage. The title such as 'From Death to Life' written at the start of the Great War was not likely to promote a similar response as Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance title for example. His fifth symphony was written some ten years after his fourth and followed a period of personal decline in health where he was medically advised to take things easier.
Regardless of these events, or lack of them, the boxed set of the symphonies has made it clear that Parry deserves a reassessment as a composer. The music on this disc is essentially from his more mature years and is very well written for the orchestra. His style is melodic with some of the nobility and grandeur of Elgar and is able to sustain interest in the listener. All the pieces have shape and direction and are not difficult to follow. The music is by no means as gloomy as the titling may suggest.
Matthias Bamert proves to be a fine guide to this music and as good a case as possible is made for Parry as a composer of note. This particular disc is now being priced very highly as a result of its scarcity. A much better buy both financially and also arguably on musical grounds would be to buy the whole boxed set of symphonies and other works which is still available at at a more reasonable price.
I would suggest that Parry is well worth getting to know as a symphonist and that the recordings by Bamert on Chandos are unlikely to be challenged or bettered for a very long time.
on 31 May 2011
Parry has the misfortune to be the composer of Jerusalem, and so to most people his talent, values and outlook are thus limited.
A recording of Parry's accomplished 5th Symphony has been long overdue.
It is therefore a further tragedy that it is priced excessively on Amazon which will dissuade many from extending their understanding and enjoyment of his music.
Hence one star for a five star 5th Symphony.