Hubert Parry is best known for his coronation anthem I was
glad, and for his hymn tune Jerusalem, a setting
of Blake’s magnificent poem. The hymn alludes to the legend
that Jesus spent time in England during the undocumented years
between his childhood and the beginnings of his ministry in
and about his homeland.
Parry is sadly underrated today, even though he composed a number
of fine symphonies that are on a level with Elgar and dare I
say it, even Brahms. He is represented here by Blest Pair
of Sirens, to a text by John Milton, a less often performed,
but no less glorious work than those aforementioned. Alas, from
a disc of otherwise quite outstanding performances, this rendition
is found wanting. The booming acoustic, the thundery organ and
a general lack of attention to enunciation render the text of
this marvelous work unintelligible. Add to the fray a wayward
member of the tenor section whose overzealous brightness of
tone sticks out like a badly-voiced reed stop, and you get a
performance that leaves something to be desired.
Now that those quibbles are out of the way, we can get on to
what is one of the finer choral recordings that have crossed
my desk in some time. Stanford’s rich double choir Magnificat,
dedicated to the memory of Parry, with whom the composer had
a longstanding and sadly unresolved parting of the ways, receives
a splendid performance with all the elements of clarity, intonation,
balance and tone in place.
John Stainer is ridiculed today as the apex of Victorian bad
taste. But in spite of his rather trite and passé style, he
should be remembered as a fine teacher and scholar, and as an
organist and choirmaster who helped to revolutionize Anglican
church music. I saw the Lord, is a diehard favorite and
here receives a clear and unaffected performance by the Vasari
E.W. Naylor was primarily a composer of operas, and his Vox
Dicentis: Clamavi of 1911 reflects his dramatic flair. My
reaction to this work has always been “oh yeah, I sang that
piece once.” Although it is flashy, I have never found it
to be particularly memorable. The Vasari’s performance is stately
and without undue affect.
Walton’s music is marked by taut rhythms and spicy, jazz-influenced
chords. The Twelve, with a text by the oft-acerbic W.H.
Auden is typical Walton with splendidly biting harmonies and
jaunty off beat rhythmic gestures. Again, the Vasaris do not
disappoint with a finely hewn performance that captures all
of Walton’s seriousness deliciously offset by wit.
Holst’s glorious Nunc Dimittis lay fallow for many years
until it was rediscovered in the 1970s and thankfully restored
to the repertoire. It is distinguished by a splendid cascade
of vocal entries marked by shimmering harmonies and a most sensitive
setting of the text. My only beef with this performance is that
it seemed a bit rushed. There could have been more time for
the lush chords to settle into place. I also felt that the ending
was a bit to edgy in its loudness.
Gerald Finzi lived all too short a life for one so very gifted.
His epic motet Lo, the full final Sacrifice, shows him
in his finest hour. It is a masterpiece, a perfect union of
music and word and is abundant in simply ravishing sounds. Ravishing
is as good a word as any to describe this splendid performance
that achieves near perfection. Mr. Backhouse leads a seamless
performance of a work that can be maddeningly “sectional” when
in the wrong hands. This fine rendition is worth the very affordable
price of the whole disc.
To sum it all up, this is a collection of great standards that
on the whole is left in very able hands. The flaws, although
distinct, are few enough not to detract from what is generally
some very fine singing indeed. Organist Jeremy Filsell is up
to his usual fine standards with sensitive registrations and
technically flawless playing.
Kevin Sutton sings, writes and teaches in Dallas, TX. You can
read his blog at www.thetenordiaries.blogspot.com,
and catch his radio broadcasts at www.rationalbroadcasting.com.