The Birds of Aristophanes – Suite [edited by Philip Brookes]
Jerusalem [Original Version]
The Glories of Our Blood and State
Amanda Roocroft (soprano)
BBC National Chorus of Wales
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Recorded 17-19 May 2012 in BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: December 2012
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10740
Duration: 75 minutes
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918), known as Hubert, a Man of Kent, is far more than a footnote in musical history – after all, he did compose Jerusalem – yet how much of his output do we know beyond his five fine symphonies? Not enough, this Chandos release suggests. It contains four first recordings, 70 minutes of music. Parry, often ‘twinned’ with Dublin-born Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) in pedagogical terms (both taught at the Royal College of Music) and they collaborated artistically, in fact left us a considerable legacy of music.
Optimistic and ceremonial, stirring and opulent, the 17-minute Te Deum (1911, to English words) is a striking piece, as radiant as it is uplifting, composed with skill and imagination. It enjoys an Elgarian pomp and brings its own sanctity and jubilation. Immediately following on this disc is England, composed just before Parry’s death. The text is John of Gaunt’s monologue from Shakespeare’s Richard II. The commissioned Parry was not keen to set the words “but I had to make the best of it”. If not quite as memorable as Jerusalem, England is a stimulating and expressive hymn that was a favourite of Parry-champion Sir Adrian Boult.
The next twenty minutes of the disc belong to the orchestra, a six-movement Suite edited by Phillip Brookes from Parry’s music composed in 1883 for The Birds, Aristophanes’s play, when mounted by the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club. Deft, witty and light-hearted, this is a score of many charming and expressive delights. To close is the jaunty ‘Bridal March of the Birds’ (recorded by Boult for Lyrita, if not in this edition) that buzzes round the mind long afterwards.
Jerusalem comes next, as Parry originally conceived his setting of William Blake’s words, and therefore without the splendour of Elgar’s sumptuous orchestration, so long associated with The Last Night of the Proms. It’s a wonderfully indelible melody of course, first with soprano (Amanda Roocroft), then with choir. Once passed a less-than-clean first chord, Järvi gets the tempo instruction – “Slow but with animation” – just about right. There follows The Glories of Our Blood and State (1883) in which Parry sets a Funeral Ode by James Shirley (1596-1666). This is Parry at his most Brahmsian if not quite emulating that composer’s greatest choral music, although the tranquil transfiguration at the close is magical.
Finally, the longest work, the Magnificat (1897, in Latin), written for the Three Choirs Festival (Hereford that year) and dedicated (with permission) to Queen Victoria. It begins with a tremendous burst of energy, such striding forth signalling not a full-throated choral entry but the repetition of the titular word by a soprano, followed by a tide of vocal unisons, Roocroft riding the waves. It’s certainly exhilarating and grandiose. Later contrasts are welcome, though, not least the inward, emotionally swelling ‘Quia respexit humilitatem’ (Roocroft blissful and imploring) and the serene violin solo featured in ‘Et misericordia’, so beautifully played by Lesley Hatfield. Dark wind colours (bassoons, trombones) inform the opening of ‘Suscepit Israel puerum suum’; this may be a Magnificat inspired by J. S. Bach’s example (the closing chorus is a fugal feat worthy of Johann Sebastian) but there are passages that clearly show that Parry knew his Wagner.
Neeme Järvi is a very sympathetic conductor of Parry’s music. With a very responsive Chorus and Orchestra from BBC Wales, he makes a strong and convincing showing on behalf of Parry’s neglected harvest. If the recording lacks the last degree of warmth, it is certainly lucid, spacious and dynamic. The booklet, including an endorsement by HRH The Prince of Wales, embraces all the texts for the vocal works as well as comprehensive introductions to the music. All in all, there is much enlightenment and nourishment to be savoured here.