RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
I was glad (1902, rev. 1911) (arr. Grayston Ives) [7:25]
Blest pair of sirens (1887) (arr. Daniel Cook) [10:31]
Dear Lord and Father of mankind (1888) (arr. Herbert Arthur Chambers) [4:07]
Hear my words, ye people (1894) (arr. Grayston Ives) [15:30]
Magnificat in D major ‘Great Service’ (1881) [8:16]
Nunc dimittis in D major ‘Great Service’ (1881) [4:09]
Fantasia and Fugue in G major for organ (1877, rev. 1882 & 1913) [11:23]
Jerusalem (1916) (organ arr. by Joseph Wicks after Elgar’s orchestration) [2:49]
Coronation Te Deum (1911) (arr. Grayston Ives) [14:42]
Onyx Brass; Daniel Cook (organ)
The Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O’Donnell
rec. 2014, Westminster Abbey
English texts included
HYPERION CDA68089 [78:52]
At the risk of appearing to diminish the remaining pieces in this programme, which is not my intention, it might be suggested that James O’Donnell plays both his aces at the start.
This programme of music by Parry opens with what Jeremy Dibble, the undoubted leading authority on the composer, says in his notes is “arguably the greatest ceremonial anthem ever written”. Well, he’ll get no argument from me! I was glad was composed for the 1902 Coronation of King Edward VII and then revised for the ceremony in 1911 at which King George V was crowned. Intended to be heard as the King and Queen entered Westminster Abbey, one can readily imagine the stately procession of the royal retinue up the nave of the Abbey to the strains of Parry’s magnificent anthem. On this occasion we hear it in an arrangement for organ and brass ensemble, including timpani, by Grayston Ives (b 1948). It’s a terrific sound. Perhaps the magisterial accompaniment does occasionally threaten to overpower the choir of 43 singers (22/6/8/7) but the sheer thrill of the aural spectacle sweeps away any such cavil. This is pomp and circumstance writ large, including the cries of ‘Vivat!’ The splendour of the setting makes ‘O pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ even more of an oasis of reflection than usual. The programme is off to a cracking start.
It gets better. If I was glad has a claim to be the pinnacle of ceremonial anthems I would argue that Blest pair of sirens is among the very finest of all English choral works - period. It is performed here with an organ accompaniment arranged by the Abbey’s Sub-Organist, Daniel Cook. He’s made a terrific realisation of Parry’s rich orchestration. This Westminster Abbey performance is magnificent. I particularly like the way the two choirs are differentiated on the recording, though not in an unnatural way. The benefit of hearing this piece sung by a fairly small and expert choir is that all the parts can be heard clearly, enabling one to appreciate Parry’s contrapuntal skill. The inspiring fugal passage at ‘To live with him, and sing in endless morn of light’ builds thrillingly. All the voices are terrifically focused and I love the way that Parry’s exciting first tenor part can be heard in this extended passage – though not obtrusively so. The performance this great piece is quite superb.
Dear Lord and Father of mankind had its origins as an aria in Parry’s oratorio Judith (1888). After his death the Parry estate consented to the head of music at Repton School (hence the name of the hymn tune) using the melody for a hymn, setting words by one John Greenleaf Whittier. What is performed here is a 1941 hymn-anthem arrangement by Herbert Arthur Chambers (1880-1967). Chambers retained Whittier's words but reverted largely to Parry’s original music in Judith. So in this hybrid version, which works very well, you don’t simply hear a four-fold repetition of the hymn tune as a glance at the track listing might lead you to expect.
It’s fairly well known that Parry wrote Hear my words, ye people for a choral festival in Salisbury Cathedral. The intention was that much of the anthem, containing the more difficult music, should be sung by a contingent of more proficient singers with the massed ranks of less expert singers joining in for the last part, which consists of the hymn O praise ye the Lord. What I didn’t know until reading Jeremy Dibble’s notes was that Parry also included parts for a brass ensemble. I don’t know if these have ever been used subsequently – quite possibly not - but Prof Dibble made an edition of them from Parry’s autograph and the arrangement by Grayston Ives that is performed here is based on that edition. Ives also includes Parry’s original organ part, splendidly played by Daniel Cook. The results sound marvellous, not least because Parry didn’t over-employ the brass, deploying them only at key moments. I’ve always thought that this piece, for all its considerable merits, is a bit over-long but this excellent performance convinced me otherwise.
The canticles from Parry’s ‘Great Service’ had something of a chequered history. After early performances at St Paul’s Cathedral and Trinity College Cambridge, the latter conducted by Stanford, it seems that they fell into neglect: they were unpublished until they surfaced in a 1984 edition by Jeremy Dibble. Prof Dibble says of them that the music is “typically generous in its architecture and grand effect.” I agree and James O’Donnell and his team make a very strong case for them. The Magnificat requires a quartet of soloists. All of them do well but special mention should be made of treble Alexander Kyle; his clear and confident singing gives great pleasure.
The Fantasia and Fugue in G major for organ went through two major revisions; though it was a fairly early piece Parry evidently felt sufficiently well of it to undertake significant improvements over the years. The Westminster Abbey organ is heard to majestic effect in the imposing neo-Bachian Fantasia. Then Daniel Cook moves the extensive fugue (from 4:55) forward with purpose and good momentum. He builds the music excitingly and convincingly in this excellent performance.
No matter how skilled the organist, whenever I hear or sing Jerusalem with organ accompaniment I regret the absence of Elgar’s wonderful orchestration. Elgar’s version, by the way, is so much more interesting and opulent than the orchestration which Parry himself made; Parry’s scoring can be heard on a disc conducted by Neeme Järvi (review). Above all I miss Elgar’s marvellously imaginative upward rush on the violins at ‘Bring me my arrows of desire’. Well, this arrangement by Joseph Wicks (b 1993) is described as “after Elgar’s orchestration” so you do get that violin swirl though the organ can’t quite project it in the way that massed violins can. This performance features forthright, committed singing and the accompaniment to the second verse is particularly opulent.
We began, as it were, at the Coronation of King George V and that’s where we end, with the Te Deum that Parry composed for that occasion. Once again it’s given in an arrangement for brass ensemble and organ by Grayston Ives. I know of at least two recordings that use Parry’s full orchestral scoring – by Neeme Järvi (review) and by Robert King (review). Obviously a wider range of instrumental colours can be heard on those recordings but I think this Ives arrangement is very skilful and the music makes a fine effect. Parry’s is a very good setting of the ancient hymn of praise; he is imaginatively responsive to the text. The present performance is an excellent one: the more reflective passages – of which there are several – are sensitively delivered while the grander episodes are thrillingly conveyed.
As you’ll have gathered, the performances on this disc achieve the highest standards. The sound is excellent; the choir is well focussed and ‘present’ while the organ is reported thrillingly – sample the low pedal notes in the closing bars of the Fantasia and Fugue. The brass contributions are mostly thrilling but, where required, subtle. The recording was in the expert hands of one of Hyperion’s best teams, producer Adrian Peacock and engineer David Hinitt: it shows. The notes by Jeremy Dibble are authoritative and in writing this review I have drawn on the excellent background information that they contain.
A magnificent disc.
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