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Sir Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918) The Complete Music for String Quartet
Quartet No 1 in G minor (1867) [19:28]
Quartet No 2 in C major (ed. Jeremy Dibble) (1868) [24:43]
Quartet No 3 in G major (ed. Michael Allis) (1878) [32:18]
Scherzo in C (ed. Jeremy Dibble) [4:57]
rec. 2017, Church of St Mary the Virgin, Salehurst, UK MPR 102 [44:15 + 37:23]
It seemed fitting that, purely by chance, I considered this set during the week that included, on 10 October 2018, the centenary of the death of Sir Hubert Parry.
I see that we’ve reviewed some previous releases by the Archaeus Quartet, including quartets by York Bowen (review) and Leonard Salzedo (review). However, I’ve not encountered them before. They appear to have been enterprising in their previous choices of music to record and their decision to record Parry’s complete music for string quartet is certainly enterprising. I don’t know how many of these works are receiving their first recordings here. The Third Quartet has certainly appeared before (review) but I’m not aware that its two predecessors have been recorded. The Scherzo in C must be making its debut on disc, I’m sure.
The first two quartets are early works, dating from 1867 and 1868 respectively. The First Quartet is in three movements. The opening movement,
Allegro con fuoco, is confident, bright and energetic. It evidences a debt to Mendelssohn but is none the worse for that. It seemed to me that the first violin line is a little over-prominent. I couldn’t decide at first what was the reason for this. Was it, perhaps, a question of the Archaeus Quartet’s internal balance? Perhaps it owed something to the recorded balance? Or perhaps it was due to the way Parry had written the music? It was not until I auditioned the Third Quartet, the one which I have heard before, that the answers became a little clearer. The central movement, an Andante, is a nice, restrained lyrical piece. Here it seemed to me that the intonation was a bit tentative at times, mainly in the first violin line, as the Archaeus Quartet strove to realise Parry’s subdued writing. The Allegro vivace finale contains a good deal of energetic counterpoint yet the music always retains its elegance.
Parry cast the Second Quartet in four movements. Jeremy Dibble indicates in his excellent notes that the work owes much to Parry’s increasing love for Maude Herbert, who subsequently became his wife. The first movement opens with a minor-key introduction marked Larghetto. I must say that although I liked the music I couldn’t really discern that it led logically to the main body of the movement, Allegro di molto, which follows after a very short pause (1:29): probably the fault is mine. The Allegro di molto is sprightly, outgoing and engaging and I mean no disrespect at all to Parry when I say that the listener soon forgets the Larghetto. The slow movement, Andante espressivo, is relaxed and pleasing. I have to say that again in this movement there were occasions when I wasn’t 100% sure of the leader’s intonation under the merciless scrutiny of the microphones. The Scherzo is actually a fugue, which is here despatched with purpose and agility. I like the way the Archaeus Quartet deliver the attractive, lyrical trio. The finale is a happy movement. Surely, Parry was here influenced by his feelings for Maude. Perhaps also he was cheered by hearing the premiere of one of his early orchestral pieces at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival just before settling down to compose this movement.
The Third Quartet came a decade after its predecessors and represents an audible step forward. Referring back to the question I posed about the prominence of the first violin line in the First Quartet, I think this Third Quartet provides much of the answer. In this score it seems to me that Parry is much more assured in writing for four instruments that are more or less equal partners. The first violin is still to the fore but we hear much more from the other three parts, especially the cello part. The first of the four movements, Allegro, demonstrates a greater sense of adventure on Parry’s part: the music is altogether more ambitious than anything we’ve experienced in the previous quartets. It’s a strong movement and so it’s good that the Andante which follows is more relaxed in nature. Here, the first violin part is often foregrounded but that’s entirely right and proper because that’s how Parry leads his musical argument. Though the movement is mainly relaxed in nature there is a brief passage (3:30 – 4:00) which is more agitated. Parry himself described the scherzo as ‘death’s head’. The scherzo material is driven along by persistent dotted rhythms while the trio, in waltz tine, is graceful. The finale, marked Allegro moderato, complements the first movement both in terms of playing length and also in the assurance with which Parry writes.
I’m sure the Scherzo in C must be receiving its first recording here. It’s not clear when it was written and, says Jeremy Dibble, the manuscript contains “several sections of blank bars for some of the instruments”. The piece is one of a number of incomplete manuscripts in the Bodleian Library and Prof. Dibble has edited it for performance. It’s an attractive, lively piece with a smooth, lyrical trio.
By far the best music on this CD is contained in the Third Quartet but its companions are worth hearing too, especially because after the Third Quartet Parry never returned to the form in the last forty years of his life. Consequently, this pair of discs usefully fills out something of a gap in our knowledge of him as a composer. The Archaeus Quartet are committed advocates for the music and I enjoyed their performances. Returning again to the questions I posed a propos the First Quartet, while the recordings are good, presenting the Quartet in clear sound I would have preferred just a fraction more distance on the recording. The impression I had while listening was that I was sitting in about the fourth row of seats during a concert. That’s just a bit too close for my liking: a little bit more distance and bloom on the sound would not have gone amiss.