Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
Symphony no.1 in G (1882) [45:22]
From Death to Life (1914) [18:34]
English Symphony Orchestra/William Boughton
rec. Great Hall, Birmingham University, 26-27 January 1991. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5296 [70:33]
Also reviewed by Rob Barnett
This 1991 Nimbus disc is one of many that were originally released in the late 1980s or 1990s and which have been re-issued or at least re-distributed without obvious announcement from the label. The booklet has certainly changed, and William Boughton's biography has been updated to 2004.
This particluar CD hardly started an avalanche of recordings of Parry's radiant First Symphony. Within a year Chandos had released a version by the London Philharmonic under Matthias Bamert (CHAN 9062) - in fact, Chandos appear to have completed their actual recording before Nimbus. The LPO under Bamert has to date provided the only complete recording of all five Parry symphonies (CHAN 9120 - pricey, but valuable, and considerably cheaper as a download). Perhaps surprisingly, Naxos have never progressed beyond a starter volume in 1996, when Andrew Penny and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra recorded the Second (8.553469).
Sadly, no other recordings appear to have been made since, leaving for the First Symphony a simple choice between Boughton and Bamert. This recording is certainly a safe bet. The orchestral playing is not faultless, but it is decent enough, and Boughton gives one of his best early performances. Sound quality on early Nimbus discs was not always of the most satisfactory quality, but on this one it is fairly good - just a little muddy in the high strings.
Though not by any means among the greatest ever written, Parry's First Symphony was something of a pioneer in British music: if it is reminiscent of Elgar, it is as well to remember that this work preceded Elgar's First by a quarter of a century. Incredibly, Boughton's was not only the first recording of Parry's Symphony, but also the first performance of it since Parry himself heard it for the last time in 1883! What a sad indictment of 20th century musical life in the UK, to allow such glorious music to lie neglected for so long, when almost every duff ditty ever scribbled, every bum note ever crooned is indiscriminately consumed by a pop-obsessed culture.
The Symphony is redolent at times of Mendelssohn, Brahms and especially Schumann, all of whom Parry held in the highest esteem. Parry dedicated it to his wife, so it is hardly surprising that it is a colourful, vital, optimistic work, though not without episodes of drama and poignancy.
Sometimes Parry was happy to adopt the Victorian practice of giving works portentous, some might say pretentious, titles for effect. From Death to Life is not only subtitled Mors et Vitae, but its two sections have their own prophetic headings: Via Mortis and Via Vitae. No doubt, obviously, what Parry had in mind when writing this piece, and given the social and personal context - the start of the First World War and Parry's own old age, it is little wonder that turned out to be a dark, operatic work of considerable intensity. It is far from depressing, however: the second part is marked nobilmente and decidedly Elgarian in spirit. A fine companion piece to the Symphony, the two works providing the listener with a representative sample of early and late Parry.
The booklet notes are supplied by prolific Parry/Stanford scholar and biographer Jeremy Dibble, and are well written and informative.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
A colourful, vital, optimistic, dramatic and poignant symphony and a dark and operatically intense tone poem.