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Sir Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
Symphony No.4 (1889) in E minor (original version) [43:25]
Proserpine - A Short Ballet (1912) [10:57]
Three movements from Suite moderne (Suite symphonique) (1886, revised 1892) [20:18]
Ladies of BBC National Chorus of Wales/Adrian Partington
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Rumon Gamba
rec. 2017, BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, Wales
Texts included
CHANDOS CHAN10994 [74:59]

There have been a number of valuable Parry releases this year to mark the centenary of his death – maybe not as many as I would have liked, but I’m grateful for what has been issued. In many ways, though, this new CD from Chandos has claims to be the most interesting and valuable of them all. All three scores here receive their first recordings and appear in versions edited and prepared by the Parry expert, Jeremy Dibble.

In the early 1990s Chandos performed a singular service to Parry devotees through a pioneering series of releases, all conducted by Matthias Bamert. These included all five of the symphonies and some of Parry’s choral/orchestral works. I collected them all as individual discs when they came out though Chandos subsequently re-released them in attractive packages, one devoted to the symphonies and the other to the choral works. Bamert included in his symphony cycle the Fourth Symphony, which he recorded in the revised version of the score, dating from 1909/10. From reading the notes accompanying that disc – authored by Jeremy Dibble – I was aware that Parry had extensively revised the original score, first performed in 1889, but I never expected to hear the original version; indeed, I didn’t even know if Parry’s first thoughts had survived. They had, and now here they are in an edition prepared and edited by Prof. Dibble.

For the benefit of readers who already own the Bamert version I will try to summarise the differences and here I draw on the detailed story as contained in Jeremy Dibble’s magisterial C Hubert H Parry. His Life and Music (1992) where he had space for more detail than in either of his notes for Chandos. One significant change was that in making his revision Parry bestowed an overall title on the symphony, ‘Finding the way’. He also gave titles to each individual movement – ‘Looking for it’, ‘Thinking about it’, ‘Playing on it’ and ‘Girt for it’ – as he would later do also with his Fifth Symphony (1912). Curiously, these titles were omitted by Chandos in the documentation for the Bamert recording. Prof. Dibble says in his book about Parry that such an autobiographical programme had been in the composer’s mind when he first wrote the Fourth but, in their absence, the listener to the original version would have been unaware of his intent.

More significant were the musical and structural changes that Parry wrought to his symphony. Bamert recorded a four-movement score, as follows;

Con fuoco [16:10]
Molto Adagio [8:32]
Allegretto [7:30]
Spiritoso [9:15]

The whole plays for 41:38.

The original work, as conducted here by Rumon Gamba, plays for slightly longer in total – 43:25 – and is in five movements, namely:

Allegro energico [12:05]
Intermezzo. Allegretto semplice [1:51]
Lento espressivo [10:00]
[Scherzo] Allegro scherzoso [7:58]
Finale: Allegro energico [11:21]

It’s probably easiest if I comment on the principal changes between the two versions as I comment on each movement. In detailing the changes, I acknowledge my debt to Jeremy Dibble’s Parry biography, where the subject is discussed in some depth. The first movement is full of confidence and purpose at the start and the first subject is common to both versions. A subsidiary subject appears at 1:09 in the Gamba performance, voiced by the horns. That, too, was retained in the revision but in Bamert’s performance we hear Parry treat the material and what flows from it in a much more expansive and complex fashion: the revision is more powerful and stirring. However, the original version of the movement is by no means to be sneezed at; it’s a pretty strong musical statement, especially when played with the urgency and conviction that Gamba and the BBCNOW bring to many passages. Listening to the two versions in succession, it is clear that the later version contains more passages of lyrical rumination but while these contain high-quality, inventive music I think there’s a case to be made that in expanding and re-composing the movement Parry sacrificed some of the tautness in the original version; the greater focus of the 1889 score often seems more compelling. That said, both versions show a fine musical mind at work. There’s one reason above all others, however, for preferring the revised score. Starting at 14;00 in the Bamert version we hear a rich, tranquil end to the movement. This is entirely new and it’s much more original than the more conventional strong end to the movement in the 1889 iteration of the score.

In the 1889 version there follows a short Intermezzo. This is a mere 22 bars in length and serves as a bridge between the first movement and the slow movement. It effectively brings down the emotional temperature. Parry eliminated it entirely from the revised score and I think he was right to do so, pleasing though the music is. Apart from anything else, the calm ending of the first movement in the revised score renders the Intermezzo emotionally redundant.

In the score that Gamba plays the slow movement follows the Intermezzo without a break. When revising the symphony Parry kept the main melody on which the slow movement was founded but much of what flowed from it was significantly altered in the revision. The main theme, common to both scores, is a big, rich string melody. A livelier episode follows at about 3:00 (Gamba) in which the woodwind are prominent but at 4:31 the main theme returns. This time it is gently decorated, initially by the woodwinds. There’s a good deal of new material in the revised version and one thing that particularly caught my ear was the passage, just mentioned, where the main theme is brought back. In the revised version the decoration is provided by the violins and now Parry makes his counter material much more striking.

The Scherzo of the 1889 version was jettisoned in its entirety for the revision and a brand-new movement took its place. The original scherzo is a charming, light-footed and dance-like creation which Jeremy Dibble aptly compares to Elgar’s Wand of Youth music. The Meno mosso sections – in effect the trio – are elegant. By comparison, the scherzo in the revised version, as played by Bamert, is an altogether livelier and extrovert affair.

The finale was given a complete makeover when Parry revised the symphony, though the opening theme was retained. The original version of the movement is cheerful and outgoing and it receives a very spirited reading here. The music is hearty and often bracing before Parry brings the movement to an optimistic, positive conclusion. There’s a considerable amount of new material in the revised version and one change may well seal te deal for many listeners, as I think it does for me. At 4:18 in the Bamert performance we hear a brand-new idea. This is a noble theme that Elgar might well have classified as nobilmente. It’s largely on this memorable theme that Parry bases the remainder of the movement and, just as the conclusion of the first movement did, it confirms that Parry’s second thoughts on the symphony were better.

That said, the original version of the Fourth Symphony is far from a negligible affair. There’s a great deal to admire in the work and Rumon Gamba and the BBCNOW make a very strong case for it. I’ve greatly enjoyed listening to Gamba’s new recording but probably the most fascinating aspect of my appraisal came when I listened to each movement in turn from both versions, listening first to Gamba on each occasion. Both the LPO (for Bamert) and the BBCNOW play splendidly in these unfamiliar scores. I think Gamba’s cause is helped by the quality of his recorded sound. Chandos gave Bamert excellent sound but that recording was made in 1990, since when recording techniques have advanced still further. Perhaps more significantly, the Bamert recording was made in a London church and the excellent but slightly less resonant acoustic of the modern, purpose-built Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff enables the engineers to achieve even more impact for Gamba. Whilst the revised version of the Fourth Symphony represents Parry’s best thoughts on the work I believe all Parry admirers will regard listening to the original version as a mandatory – and rewarding - exercise.

The other two offerings are full of interest too. Proserpine is Parry’s only ballet score. It dates from 1912, the year in which he also produced his fine Fifth Symphony and the magnificent Ode on the Nativity, surely his choral masterpiece. (How I wish the centenary year had brought us a new recording of that splendid work. The Willcocks recording has done yeoman service but it dates from 1980 and a modern recording from, say, David Hill would be very welcome.). Proserpine was written for a Keats-Shelley festival in London and Parry took for his inspiration Shelley’s Song of Proserpine, whilst gathering flowers on the Plain of Enna. The score consists of three short orchestral movements with two bridging passages between them provided by an unaccompanied female chorus; each of these choral passages sets a stanza from Shelley’s poem. Both of these are sung with pastel delicacy by the Ladies of the BBC National Chorus of Wales. The first orchestral movement is an attractive pastoral Prelude. The second orchestral movement, Proserpine’s dance, is full of grace and lithe energy. The last orchestral passage is stronger in tone, depicting Proserpine’s abduction but then (at 10:19) the clarinet paves the way for a very short but beautiful conclusion in which strings and harp illustrate the beginning of Spring. This is a nice, attractive score and it’s very well played.

Suite moderne or Suite symphonique was composed for the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival of 1886. It came three years after the composition of Parry’s Second Symphony and Jeremy Dibble tells us that though its movements took the form of a symphony Parry determined to proved a composition that was somewhat lighter than the weightier canvass of a symphony. The three movements here recorded are Idyll, Romanza and Rhapsody. Parry also composed a first movement, Ballade and in his Parry biography Jeremy Dibble states that the Idyll was intended by Parry as the scherzo of his suite - though the character of the music is not really that of a scherzo. I presume that there were good practical reasons why the Ballade couldn’t be included on this disc. The suite was successful in Parry’s lifetime but despite this it was never published and it’s been newly edited for this recording by Jeremy Dibble.

The Idyll opens with a fine, very typical melody which is introduced by the strings and then developed. There’s also what Dibble calls “an equally generous second subject”. The movement is attractively scored whilst the music itself is a delight. After a short woodwind introduction, the strings intone a lovely melody at the start of the Romanza. That theme is the basis for a fine movement. The Rhapsody is, in essence, a vigorous rondo though at 1:29 some more relaxed, lyrical material makes its first appearance. The Suite as a whole is most enjoyable and its debut on disc is most welcome.

This CD is an important release for all lovers of English music. In particular it’s essential listening for admirers of Parry. Here we have three important new additions to the Parry discography in splendid performances and conducted expertly by Rumon Gamba. Add to that excellent sound and authoritative documentation by Jeremy Dibble and this disc is pretty much self-recommending.

John Quinn

Previous review: Rob Barnett


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