Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
Piano Trio No 2 in B minor [32:34]
Piano Quartet in A flat major [32:55]
Leonore Piano Trio
Rachel Roberts (viola)
rec. 2018, All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London
HYPERION CDA68276 [65:31]
In 2000, the Meridian label issued two CDs featuring Parry’s main chamber works with piano – the three piano trios and piano quartet respectively. Then, after a gap of some nineteen years, Hyperion released a new recording, this February, of the first and third piano trios, and the Partita in D minor for violin and piano, which John Quinn subsequently reviewed, and where he referred to a possible future release, which is the subject of my present review.
From the very outset, I have to say I have always been surprised by the neglect of Parry’s work. Those who regularly sing with a choral society will, no doubt, be acquainted with Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens, or his Coronation Anthem, I Was Glad, and those who attend schools where there is still a semblance of a morning service will occasionally enjoy a robust rendition of Jerusalem, which, if nothing else, certainly does help to clear the bronchial tubes. As for Elgar, his choral fans will always have the likes of Gerontius, The Kingdom, or The Apostles, but unlike their Parry-counterparts, will most likely be able to reel off a list of Elgar’s iconic orchestral works, too.
Even in the field of chamber music, the average music-lover will probably think first of Elgar’s Piano Quintet, Violin Sonata, or String Quartet, whereas Parry’s repertoire is actually far more extensive, and includes three String Quartets, a String Quintet, three major Piano Trios, a Piano Quartet, and an interesting Nonet for Wind Instruments. In fact this is a further irony given that Parry was a highly accomplished, trained pianist, which Elgar certainly wasn’t, something which can be witnessed in the respective piano-writing of the two composers.
Hyperion’s latest CD contains both the Piano Trio No 2, and the Piano Quartet, recorded in this order, and the excellent CD booklet has been compiled by Parry expert, Professor Jeremy Dibble of Durham University. The Piano Trio opens with a short introduction, marked maestoso (majestically), which soon leads into the Allegro con fuoco first-movement proper. Admittedly all manner of parallels could be drawn between Parry’s music, and any number of his contemporaries, but this is to do it a real injustice, and is a misguided way of seeing it. It is, I feel, uniquely Parry, in exactly the same way that today’s car-makers often form large alliances, and sometimes even share their part-bins of floor-plans; but they still very much endeavour to keep the individual identity and feel of any constituent marque and brand.
The playing, from the Leonore Piano Trio, is absolutely first-rate, and shows a complete empathy with the style, nowhere more so than in the charmingly idyllic Lento slow movement, an absolute joy to listen to. The ensuing Scherzo is another delight, and at times seems to sound innately ‘English’, bizarrely looking forward perhaps to the dance-like strains of Percy Grainger (1882-1961), or even Edward German (1862-1936), in the lighter-music genre. The finale once more revisits the Maestoso section which opened the work itself, this time leading into an Allegro con moto. Here the composer makes use of cyclic form – where themes from earlier movements are reintroduced, reworked, and often combined – before navigating towards the final coda section in the home major key of B, and ensuring the work finishes in the highest of spirits.
In the original 2000 recording, Meridian used The Deakin Piano Trio, who were then joined by Japanese violist Yuko Inoue in the Piano Quartet. While this was almost twenty years ago, I did now have an ulterior motive to get hold of, and review this latest CD, the Piano Quartet in particular.
Now wearing my Seen-and-Heard-International reviewer’s hat, over a number of years I have had the pleasure to review one of the UK’s longest-standing string quartets, where, of course, I have witnessed changes of personnel in all but the lead-violin. Some time back, Rachel Roberts took over the role of violist, and I said at the time how much more inner strength this gave to the engine-house, since the other three were already powerful players when called upon.
Roberts happened to be the viola of choice to augment the Leonore Piano Trio for the Piano Quartet on the present CD and, quite by chance, had meanwhile left the string quartet, her place being taken by Inoue. In a subsequent review for Seen and Heard International, I alluded to what seemed a slight change in dynamic in the ‘engine-room’, something which I alluded to again, in a more recent review.
The Piano Quartet similarly starts with a meditative and slow introduction, marked Maestoso, which, after almost two minutes, transforms into a busy Allegro molto. This is indeed powerful music at times, and especially from the piano, and, as suspected, violist Roberts fits in just like a glove, perfectly matching, and now augmenting the already previous rich string timbre.
The Scherzo which follows – and which Dibble so aptly describes as ‘Mephistophelian’ – has truly got the feel of the Devil’s Gallop to it, save for the almost other-worldly sound-scape of the contrasting Trio. Either way, it’s a most impressive piece, and perfectly written for the players. The Andante slow movement that follows is another fine example of the genre, where Parry know instinctively just how to crank up the emotions, but never overdo this. Again his sense of line is second to none. The Allegro finale starts out with a common-enough little tune, that might initially be felt to be somewhat trite. But, as the movement unfolds, with Parry’s musical invention and ingenuity, he succeeds in fashioning a really satisfying and effective conclusion, which, for the last minute or so becomes more virtuosic with the passing of every bar, and gradual increase in tempo. There has been some discussion as to which of these two works is better? My initial vote went to the Trio, but, on further listening, I now think the Quartet might just have the ultimate edge.
To sum up, if you’re prepared to accept this exceedingly well-played and recorded CD for what it is, then you should wholeheartedly enjoy it. Perhaps not every one of its sixty-five or so minutes is absolutely top-drawer material, but there is still far more than enough heartfelt, melodious music and attractive harmony, which is well-crafted and beautifully written, too, to keep most people happy. And if, as I was, you’re keen to get to hear more Parry, or are coming to him for the very first time, then this highly-desirable new chamber-music CD could be the most ideal and enjoyable way of doing so.
Philip R Buttall
Previous reviews: Jonathan Woolf ~ John Quinn ~ Stephen Greenbank