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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, UK
CHANDOS CHAN10994 [74:59]

While other companies have made important inroads into the edifice that is Parry's orchestral music Chandos can be said to own the plot. Mathias Bamert recorded all of the symphonies (CHAN9120 - review) alongside the shorter orchestral works: Symphonic Variations; Concertstück; From Death to Life and Elegy for Brahms (the latter four on CHAN 6610 and CHAN 7006). The symphonies were originally issued by Chandos: Symphony No. 1 and Concertstück, CHAN9062; Symphony No.2 and Symphonic Variations CHAN8961; Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 CHAN8896 and Symphony No. 5, From Death to Life and Elegy for Brahms CHAN8955. Recently, Järvi directed for the label a choice choral selection (review review). Also four of the big choral/orchestral works conducted by Hickox and Bamert appear on a not-to-be-missed Chandos double on CHAN 241-31.

Other companies made distinctive ad hoc entries: Adrian Boult (EMI and Lyrita: review ~ review ~ review ~ review), Andrew Penny on Naxos 8.553469 (Symphony No. 2; Symphonic Variations; Overture to an Unwritten Tragedy) and, most fiery of all, a superb reading of the First Symphony and of From Death to Life from William Boughton on Nimbus (review ~ review).

This latest disc comes out of the blue. It lets us hear premiere recordings of scores prepared and edited by the Parry authority Jeremy Dibble, who also supplies the liner-note

First comes the five-movement original version of the Fourth Symphony. The revised version - the one that we all know somewhat, from Bamert's Chandos, is in four movements: I. Con fuoco 16:13; II. Molto Adagio 8:37; III. Allegretto 7:32; IV. Spiritoso 9:26. I have not been able to compare the original with the revised except from memory. What we hear from Gamba is the Symphony as premiered by Hans Richter on 1 July 1899. Like the Symphony No. 3 The English, performances of this work owed much to Richter who conducted the premiere of the Third five weeks before the Fourth's first performance. The score of the Fourth carries a dedication: "written for and dedicated to my friend Hans Richter".

The Brahms pantone is fully in evidence in No. 4, as is Parry's own brand of nobilmente and playfulness. The opening and concluding movements are energetic, positive and passionate. They recall the glorious Schumann-inflected storm-tossed turbulence of Parry's First Symphony on Nimbus. That said, the French horns are notable for not projecting as brazen firebrands but majoring instead on the suave and the rounded. The solidly active finale is rather close in mood to the more vigorous sections of Brahms' Second Symphony with, at 3:30, some gently fugal-style writing. As for the middle movements, there is a very brief and tender Intermezzo followed by an idyllic, calming and gentle Lento and a playful yet soothing Scherzo which seems to inhabit a world related to Elgar's Wand of Youth. The whole work has to be taken as a relaxed delight and will not meet the expectations of those who like their symphonies violent and dramatic. For those who want something else then the revised version, as conducted by Bamert, will be preferred but why choose? Rather like the Prokofiev Fourth Symphony two versions can co-exist and have distinct concert and recording lives.

The 'Short Ballet' Proserpine is a continuous score and Parry's only ballet. It runs about the length of a concert overture with a female choral contribution. The music is limpid, almost air-brushed and is dancingly rendered by what, for Parry, is a spindrift hand. The woodwind writing is particularly attractive. It's an unnerving and extremely attractive blend of Elgar's In the Bavarian Highlands and Bantock's Pierrot of the Minute and the piece ends in a passively moonlit farewell. As a subject Proserpine finds its inspiration in a poem by Shelley.

The three nuggets from Suite Moderne echo the style of movements II, III and IV of Symphony No. 4 which are in the nature of Tchaikovsky's orchestral suites and Gauk's orchestration of The Seasons. The Idyll is a slinky and silky Moderato with smiling ways and a gently tripping and ticking conclusion. The Romanza shows its colours in its Lento marking. The slower sun-dappled movements of Elgar's Wand of Youth are an echo of what we hear. The Animato of Rhapsody suggest some form of vigorous national dance à la Grieg and Bizet. It ends in loud affirmation. I am left wondering what was amiss with the Ballade such that it was omitted from this totally praiseworthy revival.

The Chandos team of Tim Thorne, Jonathan Cooper and Huw Thomas ensure a welcome musical aural experience, reporting across the full spectrum of sound. It is to the credit of Rumon Gamba - who is used far too infrequently by Chandos - that the music comes across not as the contents of a glass-lined museum case but as a living and, in the case of the outer movements of the Symphony, an often-unruly musical experience. In this the BBCNOW and choir are delightfully complicit.

Rob Barnett


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