on 9 January 2007
Hubert Parry (1848-1918) was one of the fathers of the English Musical Rennaissance. Although he was overshadowed in his lifetime by Elgar and then Vaughan Williams, he was a fine composer and most people remember him today by 'Jerusalem', and the moving choral works 'Blessed Pair of Sirens' and 'I was glad'.
This CD contains two suites for string orchestra: An English Suite and Lady Radnor's Suite. In addition, it contains the Overture to an Unwritten Tragedy, the Bridal March from Aristophane's 'The Birds' and his Symphonic Variations.
The Overture to an Unwritten Tragedy is a short symphonic work for full orchestra. It is almost compulsory to describe Parry's orchestral writing as Brahmsian but if you know his music well, there is no doubt he has a strong musical personality though it is difficult to categorise - a certain Elgarian nobility perhaps (but see later). It is by no means a gloomy piece and Parry knows exactly where he is going.
An English Suite consists of seven short movements, most of which are jolly and tuneful. The Saraband, however, is a noble utterance of considerable beauty. The Air is a charming number with an Irish flavour.
The Bridal March from his incidental music to The Birds is interesting because it seems to be a precursor to the 'trios' in some of Elgar's and even Walton's marches, especially at 2'49" onwards. Parry often pre-echoes Elgar and I wonder how much Elgar was influenced by his older contemporary.
Lady Radnor's Suite is another charmer. Again, the Sarabande is the star, though it does not have the weight or depth of its companion.
The Symphonic Variations starts with Parry's easily recognisable theme. The variations (22 in all) are arranged in five groups rather like movements, with common tempi. He manipulates the material with great skill and imagination. There is a remarkable passage where the cellos pick out the theme, pizzicatto, against trilling low clarinets and it is from this point that the music takes on a considerable emotional weight, getting into tingle territory. The emotional charge is halted by a temporary halt and then the music swaggers optimistically to the end, trumpets blazing.
Performances (LSO and LPO, both under Boult) are excellent. The recordings date from 1971 and 1978 and wear their age lightly and the liner notes are clear and free of musical jargon. It is good to see Lyrita back in business - lovers of British music owe the label a great debt.
Hubert Parry was a family friend of the Boults, so Sir Adrian knew him from childhood. In his professional life later on, Boult had great sympathy for Parry's music, long neglected in the 20th. century, and his last commercial recording, for EMI, was of Parry. It gave him particular pleasure that that LP entered the classical best-seller lists at the time. This CD comes largely from an earlier Lyrita CD on which, I think, the performances are even better than on the best-selling EMI. The 'Symphonic Variations' is a really fine piece, taut, dramatic and building to a very fine major-key climax (from a minor-key theme). Likewise the 'Overture'. The two suites are very attractive, though in places a little run-of-the-mill, but they are performed with just as much conviction as the more symphonic pieces. The LSO's playing is very good, but it is really the skill and commitment of the conductor which carry the day, and it is good to see this emerge at long, long last for the first time on CD.
on 6 October 2013
This disc is among Boult's most lasting contributions to British music. He knew Parry, but very few leading British musicians of his and his parents' generation didn't. I don't think it presents us with a collection of great forgotten masterpieces on an international level. But for those who've read George Bernard Shaw's assaults on Parry's big public oratorios (can they really have been that bad?) this disc is certainly worth knowing. The one masterpiece here is the Symphonic Variations, and the Overture to an Unwritten Tragedy isn't far behind. Neither is really Brahmsian -Parry demands quicker reactions and doesn't repeat himself much. Nor does he mess with Viennese or gypsy mannerisms. Getting to know these pieces is a lot harder than following, say, an Isaiah Berlin lecture. They aren't public statements, even though they are for orchestra. But they are personal.
The Symphonic Variations eventually comes to seem very like a tour of a late Victorian ancestral estate - the owner, who is unfailingly polite, and makes sure you have good boots and a waterproof, but who walks very quickly, shows you his woods, fields, nurseries, pastures, and his grand house, and then walks you up the hill for a glimpse of the sea, where, to your surprise, the Fleet is exercising, and you share his ancestral pride. All this was part of the world in which Parry grew up, and of the family to which he belonged. It's worth remembering their's was not the path he followed, but their identity is part of the work. It is woven together with immense craft (and this is where the Brahmsian influence lies) which concisely draws one perspective after another (27 in all)from its theme's few bars and arranges them in what proves to be the four sections of the Schumann-Brahms classical symphony, but in less than around fifteen minutes. The Unwritten Tragedy develops with even greater speed, (too quickly to write down?) and even with Tovey's essay in front of you is demanding and rewarding listening. The two suites - the English suite is a posthumous work - offer energy, nostalgia, and a distant homage to Bach.
You forget about Boult, which would probably have pleased him. But after hearing it, you don't forget about Parry. That would have pleased him more.
on 23 July 2012
Parry is hardly known, outside the magnificent Jerusalem (and hardly anyone mentions the composer even then!)
This is both strange and sad. He ought to be better known. Assured, witty, tuneful music, with swelling dramatic moments that lift the mood and gladden the heart. The evocatively titled 'Overture to an Unwritten Tragedy' is the first offering on this CD: short, haunting and melodic. Delius, perhaps is here, certainly Vaughan Williams and Holst whom he taught. The English Suite is exactly that - tripping and sure-footed but not tub-thumping! The minuet is perfect - Mozartian - a little chocolate of a piece. The only other Saraband I know well is Handel's amazing one (used on the Levi Jeans advert a few years ago) and this, whilst not matching that, is powerfully rendered. The CD continues to delight, but you have to give it time to grow on you. I was tempted to give it four stars, but eventually went for 3, perhaps this is a little tough, but the reason is that I need it to grow on me too.
Boult is very assured here - a conduit to Parry himself.
A great CD - something fresh for your collection. Go one give someone 'new' a try!