A very good introduction to Parry as a composer for orchestra. Quite apart from that the disc includes two of the best pieces by any English composer (including Elgar) in the last quarter of the 19th century. The Symphonic Variations swings along I won't say merrily, for as always with Parry there is a sense of deeper things, but irresistibly. A few years later it might well have been a numbered one movement symphony. These variations are well known in so far as Parry is well known. The same cannot be said of the extraordinary Concertstuck in G minor. This is an early work, that was unperformed in the composer's lifetime, but it is remarkable with its tight motivic construction and its sense (to me at least) of a very good Victorian ghost story, which leaves a distinct shiver. You have to wait till the late Havergal Brian symphonies to find anything similar. Again in a later generation it might well have been a numbered symphony.
This disc brings together the important non-symphonic orchestral works of Parry. These span most of his composing life and the tone poem, From Death to Life, is his last important orchestral score. It is traditional to describe Parry's music as "Brahmsian", suggesting he was old fashioned and perhaps a bit staid. But Brahms was very much alive when Parry was developing, so it is not surprising that this musical Titan should have an influence on the younger composer. However, Parry was very aware of contemporary musical developments and, while no radical, was perhaps more innovative than usually supposed.
All the pieces on this disc display the nobility of expression that I find so characteristic and endearing in this composer. He is the first composer I would describe as sounding "English", even before Elgar, and this character is in the cast of his melodies, as with Elgar too, and therefore difficult to pin down.
The original theme forming the basis of the orchestral variations has something of the sea about it. Parry exploits this rather square tune in delightful and varied ways to give us an enjoyable work. The Elegy to Brahms is a deeply felt work and one of Parry's most beautiful utterances, with strong and memorable thematic material worked out with powerful emotional effect. The two movement From Death to Life was composed in the shadow of the First World War, with a deeply elegiac first half and more optimistic ending. The long theme of the opening is a fine example of Parry's ability to express something profound, increasing the emotional tension as the melody itself expands to a climax. He was not a believer but he was a deeply humane man and perhaps this work expressed his view that we must make of life what we can while we are here but death is the end and we must must ultimately accept this.
This is a fascinating collection, beautifully played.