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Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
Songs of farewell (1916-1918): (My soul there is a country [3:50]; I know my soul hath power [2:31]; Never weather-beaten sail [3:18]; There is an old belief [4:13]; At the round earth’s imagined corners [7:08]; Lord, let me know mine end [9:41])
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)

Three motets, Op. 38 (1905): (Justorum animae [3:48]; Coelos ascendit [1:54]; Beati quorum via [3:50])
Eternal Father, Op. 135, No. 2 (1913) [6:28]
Magnificat in B flat, Op. 164 (1918) [11:34]
Choir of Trinity College Cambridge/Richard Marlow.
rec. Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge. DDD
CONIFER ARKIV CD 75605-51155-2 [59:32]



It mighjt be a matter of interesting debate What are the most appropriate forces to sing Parry’s Songs of farewell? Here is a medium-sized, fresh-voiced mixed choir of undergraduates, naturally recorded, close but not too close, in a comfortably rounded acoustic. Richard Marlow displays My soul there is a country as a work of measured, lyrical contemplation. The crescendo and animato at ‘O my soul awake’ (tr. 1 1:24) illustrates how contemplative the general atmosphere is but the real reason for it is to wake up the listener to focus on the slower, expressive setting of the keywords ‘love’ (1:33) and ‘die’ (1:39) realized in poised fashion. Marlow enjoys Parry’s madrigalian feel for word painting, as at the bastion picture of ‘thy fortress’ (2:18), sopranos flying the flag, as it were, on a sustained top G while the other parts’ rising emphasises the scale of the bulwarks. I compared the recording by the Choir of St George’s Chapel Windsor/Christopher Robinson (Hyperion CDA 66273). This was recorded in 1987, the same year in which Marlow’s was published. Robinson’s use of trebles on the top line makes the expression more incisive, less smoothly rounded and emotive than Marlow. This in turn brings the structure more sharply into focus, to neat but less subtle effect.

Marlow’s performance of I know my soul hath power is concentrated and quite surprisingly intense, coming from Parry’s emphasis of keywords through harmonic and dynamic effects. The clarity and directness of the smoothly stated, gradually opening out ‘I know my soul hath power to know all things’ to the beaming tone at ‘power’ and thereafter, followed by the quietening, chopped delivery and grey tone of ‘Yet she is blind and ignorant in all’ is typical of the faithful representation of the antitheses throughout the poem. Robinson’s slightly faster account, 2:18 to Marlow’s 2:31, makes for at first more striking, starker, more dramatic contrasts but Marlow’s more rounded tone allows the poem’s message to resonate more.

Parry’s Never weather-beaten sail is less clean cut, more troubled than Campion’s original: music more of mood than melody with ‘my wearied sprite’, wishing to escape the body, floating in the sopranos over the other voices. Marlow goes for a softer focus in the lower parts here whereas Robinson more clearly shows the sprite leaping in all parts. At the end of the first stanza the appeal ‘come quickly, sweetest Lord’ grows more urgent and climactic from Marlow. The second stanza begins more extrovertly with ‘Glory’ vaunted and Marlow gets across distinctly that this stanza is about the reality of Heaven.

There is an old belief opens in a simple, flowing style matching the comforting verse, the voices hugging one another in convivial imitation. For this piece Marlow’s smoother delivery and lighter application of imitation works better, I think, than Robinson’s firmer structural emphasis. And Marlow shows how spaciously ‘Beyond the sphere of Time and Sin’ opens out in sopranos’ high tessitura without dominating. ‘That creed I fain would keep’ Marlow gives startlingly direct treatment. The alternative of ‘Eternal sleep’ is considered expansively and unflinchingly falling into oblivion before the close offers the hope of a sunrise on ‘waken’.

At the round earth’s imagined corners is unusually flamboyant with vocal fanfares of trumpets and vivid ascents of souls rising. This makes the icy austerity of the spare ‘And you whose eyes shall behold God’ from Marlow’s female voices only (tr. 5 1:56) all the more telling. The harmonies don’t soften till 2:38. As Donne’s verse moves from the universal to the personal, the stark unsentimental pleading of ‘Teach me how to repent’ (4:51) is another memorable feature of Marlow’s performance. Robinson’s is more virtuosic and thrilling but also more impersonal than Marlow’s.

Lord, let me know mine end is a dramatic psalm setting which respects the tradition of chant, not so much in repetition of music as constant imitation, at the beginning enhancing the calm, placatory manner, later, as at ‘Take thy plague away from me’ (tr. 6 5:03) magnifying the bitter anguish. Marlow’s performance clarifies the contrasts by distinguishing between expansive measure and degrees of greater animation. Spotlighting of the lower voices is also effectively revealed, as at their repeat of ‘ev’ry man living is altogether vanity’ (2:01) and then use of ‘vanity’ as a mantra, or their very measured, monotone ‘I became dumb’ (4:00). This is partly because Marlow’s sopranos crown the texture more than Robinson’s trebles but I feel Marlow’s smoother contours suit this piece more than Robinson’s greater formality.

Stanford’s Three Motets have a special place in the repertory of Trinity College Choir as they were dedicated to them. To Justorum animae Marlow brings a calm opening yet strong assertion as the crescendos climax at ‘Dei’ (tr. 7 0:12, 0:49) emphasising the departed souls are with God. The stormy central section, ‘et non tanget’ (1:27) is more animated but not markedly so. It soon becalms for the luminous coda (2:40). I compared the 1997 recording by Winchester Cathedral Choir/David Hill (Hyperion CDA 66964). His slightly faster tempo, 3:10 against Marlow’s 3:48, together with trebles on the top line, makes for a more searing radiance and a more contrasted injection of venom in the central section, but Marlow’s more measured approach and less reverberant acoustic reveals more details of the part writing.

Coelos ascendit is for double choir so every line of text delivered by one choir can be capped by an Alleluia in the other. Marlow makes it spirited but firmly articulated so it goes with a fair swing. His performance has at the same time strength and a relaxed assurance, especially the closing Amen. Hill’s performance is more dramatic and outwardly celebratory yet Marlow’s has an equally effective inner density.

Marlow’s Beati quorum via opens with the radiant purity and sunny flow of female voices, two soprano parts and one contralto, followed by the gently affirmative response of male voices, one tenor and two bass parts. The second section, ‘Qui ambulant in lege Domini’ proceeds smoothly but purposefully with an effective slow tiered climax from tr. 9 1:19 pointing the seriousness of the latter text, ‘in the law of the Lord’. Again upper and lower voices again alternate, this time with the call ‘Beati’ like a beacon of a blessing cutting through a harmonic haze like one of incense. The opening returns in expansive line, from 1:57 on the first soprano imitated by tenor and contralto before returning to first soprano. Marlow handles this with ideal breadth, space and humility, the ‘Qui ambulant’s of the coda floating more than previously. I compared the 1982 recording by the Cambridge Singers/John Rutter (Collegium COLCD 107). This is slightly faster, 3:21 against Marlow’s 3:50 and accordingly less tranquil. There’s a firmer sense of structure and control about the performance, but for me Marlow’s balancing of the sense of flow and contemplation makes the motet come across as a more spontaneous and satisfying experience.

Eternal Father is a sensitive, richly textured setting which picks out key elements of Robert Bridges’ poem on which to focus. The first is on the address to the Eternal Father, ‘To all men be Thy name known, which is Love’ (tr. 10 0:43 to 0:54), achieved by the use of distinctive harmonies and interchange of voices and leading to an ecstatic close to the end of the first section. In the second the focus is on ‘joy’ (2:15), this time more through repetition, but quickly followed by a telling recognition of ‘pain’ (2:35). The darker elements of the verse now start to predominate: anger, sin and, in particular dissonant focus, ‘terror’ (4:58 to 5:34) before the pure hope of ‘comforted’ is dropped like the application of balm at the end. Another 1997 recording by Winchester Cathedral Choir/David Hill (Hyperion CDA 66974) is slightly faster, 6:05 against Marlow’s 6:28 and thereby brighter, more assertive and crisper in texture, but Marlow displays awe rather than declamation.

Stanford’s Latin setting of the Magnificat for eight-part chorus makes a splendid finale. The vigorous opening motif on ‘Magnificat’ returns early in the piece and for the Gloria. The music only calms down 1 minute in for ‘Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae’ where Trinity College Choir is at its finest, producing smooth contoured singing of feeling followed by the effortlessly soaring sequence of ‘ex hoc beatam me dicent’ from tr. 11 1:34. Marlow gets just right the contrast between the sturdy assertion of ‘Quia facit mihi magna qui potens est’ in the sopranos (2:36) and the comely humility of ‘Et sanctum nomen eius’ in the lower parts (2:42), emphasised first by repetition, then return in reversed scoring. ‘Dispersit superbos’ (4:55) could have more venom but the ethereal nature of ‘Esurientes implevit bonis’ (6:41) and gauntness to ‘et divites dimisit inanes’ (7:02) are well differentiated. Hill (CDA 66974) gives a faster account, 10:09 against Marlow’s 11:34. This makes for more virtuosic sinewy passages but less beauteous contrast for the reflective ones.

The sensibility of Marlow’s emotive performances catches well the sensitivity of the composers’ settings. The Arkiv CD under review doesn’t have booklet notes but I gather all future releases will and existing releases are gradually being upgraded.

 Michael Greenhalgh


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