I have always been surprised and ,
indeed, perplexed, by the neglect of Parry's
There are two main reasons. Firstly he was labelled the English Brahms which
is another evidence of the absolute stupidity of labelling. I shall never
forget Sir William Walton being incensed and inconsolable when he was claimed
to be Elgar's successor and that his music was sometimes Elgarian. Only his
Orb and Sceptre is Elgarian and he did not like the piece very much
either . He was once told
that a passage in one of his orchestral works sounded like Elgar and he took
it away and rewrote it saying, "Who wants to sound like Elgar?." Walton never
forgave Elgar for his insulting remarks about his Viola Concerto which
remarks were made in some public lavatories after an early performance of
this masterpiece. Elgar said that this work was the murder of the viola whereas,
in fact, he was really made aware that a contemporary English composer could
write a fine concerto and better than he could. The essential ingredient
of any great composer is to be original and not sound like anyone else, as
far as possible. If Parry sounds like Brahms it is very poor Brahms. Parry's
music does not have the intensity, drama and passion of Brahms
It is sometimes bland, uneventful and very
ordinary rather like a Jane Austen novel.
The second reason is that Parry and his music is overshadowed by Elgar and
this came about by the basest of motives. Elgar was not a nice man and yet
many a myth has been perpetrated about him. There is a book alleging his
friendship with my great uncle Sir Ivor Atkins who was organist at Worcester
Cathedral for about 50 years. The fact of the matter is that you could not
be a friend to Elgar unless you agreed with all that he said and did and
fawned over both him and his music. In this, he was like Benjamin Britten.
Elgar was a toady. To feed his egocentricity he toadied to royalty and acquired
a knighthood just as in the present day Elton John has done. Both Elgar and
Britten tried to suppress the performance of other British composers in favour
of their own. Parry was one of Elgar's victims.
But Parry, although nowhere near being a great composer, is vastly superior
to Elgar. Firstly, there is a clear structure in these Parry works. You can
see and hear the logic and know where the music is going. It has design and
direction. Secondly, Parry could write for the piano, Elgar could not. Parry
studied with a fine pianist, Edward Dannreuther, as well as detailed musical
analysis which instilled in Parry a fine sense of form. Elgar's music is,
by contrast, rhapsodic, often formless and lacking in shape. And he could
not write a quick movement to save his life ; it
is so much easier to write the slow turgid
stuff. Thirdly, Parry always had a plan in his works. He usually achieved
the right length for each movement and did not pad it out ad nauseum to
make it big. Fourthly, we very rarely find ghastly pomposity in Parry's music
and, finally, the unprejudiced listener can easily see and hear that his
music is sincere. It is never overloaded
Its message is direct and. therefore, all
the more enjoyable.
And yet it is not great music. Some of the music on this disc is very ordinary
although I hasten to add that it is generally well played.
The Piano Trio in E minor opens with an Allegro appassionato
which is heavily influenced by Brahms. The movement varies in quality
but is very engaging. The scherzo is infectious with high spirits
and is a very attractive movement. The Adagio is often very warm and
has a few moments of rather special beauty. The cello part is often very
tender and heart-warming. There are more than a few hints of Beethoven, the
first of the great dramatic chamber composers. Sometimes the music sounds
very intimate and is quite lovely. There are moments in the piano part which
suggests a child's nursery. The finale is not successful but merely
a musical meander.
I was surprised that Jeremy Dibble refers to the Piano Quartet as
Parry's most impressive chamber work. I can't see that. It is rather an
uneventful work, albeit pleasant. It is not original and is too derivative.
The second movement is not a presto for most of the time as labelled;
the slow movement has some good moments particularly the mellow character
that Parry has inherited from Brahms. The finale is the best movement
which has a sort of subdued excitement.
The least successful work is the Piano Trio no. 3 in G. I don't know
what to make of the piece. It seems to hover between an easy-going cheap
type of music and an attempt to be serious. The first movement has a memorable
theme and is clearly developed but, at times, the music sounds trite and
banal. The second movement, Capriccio, is not in strong enough contrast
to the preceding movement and is also leisurely. The third movement, Lament,
is best forgotten. The finale goes on and on and on....
The best work is the Piano Trio no. 2. It is rather intense and may
not appeal to everyone as a result but its structure and development is very
well realised. The problem of a lack of originality is still there. There
are moments of exquisite beauty in the slow movement although it does outstay
its welcome. The Allegro vivace is another example of melodic nullity
but it sparkles occasionally. The finale is a clear example of drama which
Parry sometimes puts into his music and makes it impressive as a result.
The recording is good and the performances are generally good as well.
These are interesting and important discs but the music, while it has some
fine moments, is often quite ordinary.