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Sir C. Hubert H. PARRY (1848-1918) The Wanderer- Collected Music for Violin and Piano Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin)
Duncan Honeybourne (piano)
rec. 2016, Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, UK EM RECORDS EMRCD050-52 [3 CDs: 165:19]
As Sir C. Hubert H. Parry’s centenary anniversary year draws to a close, it would be a pity if the works by the composer that have been brought into the spotlight during the last twelve months – the
symphonies, the less familiar choral music, the chamber music – were pushed back to the margins. This three-disc set, entitled The Wanderer, of Parry’s complete music for violin and piano – launched at the 1901 Arts Club in December, with fine performances by violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck and pianist Duncan Honeybourne – might, and certainly should, keep Parry’s instrumental music in the public eye.
It’s not the first recording of Parry’s music for violin and piano; violinist Erich Gruenberg and pianist Roger Vignoles released a disc of the violin sonatas on the Hyperion label in 1985, and Marshall-Luck himself recorded the three sonatas with pianist Daniel Swain for Radegund Records in 2008. But the discs do provide the opportunity to hear and enjoy the many miniatures and salon pieces which remained unpublished at Parry’s death, and which receive their world premiere recording here, as well as other works which have only recently been rediscovered. The three-disc set is the result of enthusiastic and exhaustive archaeological work, and the musical outcome is immensely rewarding.
Many of the smaller pieces may well have first been heard during one of the semi-private chamber music recitals which pianist and teacher Edward Dannreuther initiated at his home, 12 Orme Square in Bayswater, in 1876, where subscribers were able to encounter for the first time new music by the likes of Grieg, Brahms, Dvořák and Richard Strauss. One of the best of those works by Parry which may have been presented to such audiences, and which Marshall-Luck and Honeybourne performed in the fittingly elegant salon of the 1901 Arts Club, is the Suite No.2 in F. The two Suites for Violin and Piano, published in 1907, were Parry’s last contributions to music for violin and piano, and the Prelude of the second opens the first disc with a broad Brahmsian gesture. The performers do not neglect the movement’s mild elegiac tone but capture, too, its driving purposefulness and passion. Marshall-Luck shapes the phrases sensitively in the following Intermezzo and the gentle sway of the accompaniment evokes a carefree ease. Here, and throughout the set, the violin tone is very centred and focused, and Marshall-Luck’s intonation is excellent, though greater variety of dynamics and vibrato, as well as more flexible phrasing would enhance the nuances that the performers seek and find in Parry’s music. That said, the clean line and relaxed shaping of the Capriccioso are admirable, and Honeybourne’s eloquence in the Retrospective: Lento espressivo communicates surprisingly weighty emotions of yearning and resignation within the movement’s brief four minutes. The performers create a strong sense of direction in the Finale: Allegro grazioso, pushing onwards to the violin’s final climb and the bright sweetness of Marshall-Luck’s high, sustained peak.
The Suite No.1 in D (according to the writer of the booklet note, who is unnamed, though F.G. Huss is identified as the author of the biographical note) originated as the Suite Moderne, and was intended for Kitty Lushington, one of daughters of Vernon Lushington QC whose home in Kensington Square was a meeting place for aficionados of literary, visual and musical culture. Its movements are less characterful, but the Prelude is marked by a fresh and positive spirit, and its forward-reaching melodies are strongly defined by Marshall-Luck and propelled by vigorous dotted rhythms in the piano bass. The folk-like directness of the Capriccioso is charming, and there is a lovely grace to the violin line, while the Scherzo bursts forth with a spontaneity and vigour which, the notes tell us, Elgar’s friend A.J. Jaeger associated with an ‘exciting motor-ride with “hoot” obbligato’ – a reference to Parry’s enthusiasm for racing between towns in his motorcar and recording his journey times in an endeavour to beat his own records.
The Twelve Short Pieces were gathered into a set by Novello in 1894, divided into three groups of four – conveniently so for this set, which presents one group on each disc. Most of the pieces are just a few minutes in length, but each has a strongly defined character and provides evidence of Parry’s fecund melodic invention within simple forms and ability to craft clearly delineated dialogues between the two instruments. The longer pieces have a thoughtful earnestness, such as the Romance of the first group where Marshall-Luck’s warm tone on the lower strings provides depth, and the Lullaby of the same group which inspires nuanced phrasing and flexible rubato from both performers. Of the second group, the persuasive sweep and song-like openness of the Prelude: Allegro make a strong impression, while it is the combination of light lyricism and more serious intent which draws the ear in the Capriccio. The Romance from the final group is played with a beautiful simplicity and sincerity, the melody redolent with strong feeling.
Distributed across the three discs are ten Miniatures for Violin and Piano, generally titled by their tempo markings which the notes speculate may not have been intended for public performance but rather were written during the composer’s mature years (so the handwriting suggests) to be played with Parry’s daughter Gwendolin, who learnt the violin as a young girl. Some are as brief as thirty-seven seconds, and not all are memorable, but the outer sections of the Allegro on the first disc group has assurance and is played with vibrant attack, and frames a tender central episode, while the Andante espressivo on disc two is noteworthy for its expanse and lyricism.
More striking are the four pieces which comprise the Freundschaftslieder which dates from 1872, just after Parry’s marriage to Lady Maude Herbert and while he was still working full-time as an insurer at Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. At the launch recital, Marshall-Luck explained that the manuscripts of these works were only recently discovered, languishing in a drawer, and were passed to him by Parry’s great-granddaughter, Laura Ponsonby (who died in 2016). The presence of separate violin and piano parts suggests that they were performed, at least, in a private setting; however, while both the autograph and hand-written catalogue make reference to a movement in C minor labelled as ‘No.6’, the manuscripts of the other two movements have not proved traceable. The assurance and direction of the melody of the first piece, The confidence of love, are notable and the performers create a persuasive flow through the melodic development and harmonic progressions. The shadow of Brahms rests over the expansiveness and rhythmic discourses between the two instruments in the Moderato, and violin line has an enchanting clarity when the melody is repeated in a higher register. The fluency of the Allegretto and the rhythmic vigour of the Allegro, which brings the motivic arguments to the fore, made a strong impression during the live performance of the Freundschaftslieder in December, and listening again to this recording confirmed their charm and accomplishment.
One of the more unusual works is the Partita in D minor which reflects Parry’s fascination with the music of the seventeenth century (the composer was the first person to write a modern biography of J.S. Bach). Perhaps the performers might have made more of the rhetorical dotted rhythms at the start of the Maestoso, which occasionally feels a little four-square, and the Allemande seems a tad on the fast side to my ears. But, the Sarabande is beguiling, phrased like a song, and the Passepied allies breadth with lyricism.
This brings us to the sonatas for violin and piano, which are presented chronologically, one on each disc. The manuscripts of the three sonatas had been deposited in the Bodleian Library by Parry’s elder daughter, Dorothea Ponsonby, and had been largely neglected since the 1950s until, in 2003, they were edited by Jeremy Dibble for publication by Musica Britannica. In an article in The Strad accompanying this publication, Dibble, the author of C. Hubert Parry: His Life and Music (1992), argued that the role Parry (‘scholar, thinker, champion of Wagner’) played in the nation’s musical life, and in particular in rejuvenating chamber music in Britain, has been greatly undervalued. The three sonatas give us an opportunity to evaluate for ourselves.
The first sonata, in D minor, was written and revised during Parry’s studies with Dannreuther in the mid-1870s. It was his first large-scale instrumental work and it offers many surprises, not least the unusual Adagio gesture in the piano at start of the first movement, a rhetorical invitation which is taken up by the violin in the first of the movement’s two contrasting themes. Honeybourne brings clarity to the Schumann-esque piano-writing, and after an energetic development the reprise of the major-key second subject pleasingly assuages the preceding weight and agitation. Again, Marshall-Luck’s sweet-toned E string and lovely smooth line impress, and there is more spacious lyricism in the second movement where the strong, even violin line comfortingly fills the broad, expansive phrases. Honeybourne again delineates the complex textures with refinement, and the movement builds to a surprisingly tempestuous climax, before the reprise of the opening is challenged by some unexpected harmonic twists and the deep descents and rumbling trills in the piano’s left hand.
The third movement confirms the virtuosity of both Parry’s invention and the duo’s technique: the triple-stops in the violin line when Marshall-Luck takes up the piano’s theme are cleanly executed, and given the density of the motivic development, the clarity of texture is noteworthy.
If there are echoes of Schumann and Mendelssohn in the early D minor sonata, then the Fantasie-Sonata in einem Satz in B major, composed in 1878, is more experimental, as Parry’s strives to fuse the four movements of sonata form within a single movement, employing a cyclical design. Initially, soaring and sweeping melodic arches are juxtaposed with knotty motivic problem-solving, and the duo create a sense of constant searching and evolution. The violin shines through the dense piano figuration and, again, Honeybourne’s rhythmic definition and accentuation are admirable. There is textural and timbre interest and contrast: Marshall-Luck’s animated pizzicatos bounce brightly against the piano’s very high glittery staccato, for example, and the dialogues between the two instruments, as they explore fragmented scalic and cadential gestures, are precisely controlled. The gentleness of the slow episode is troubled by undercurrents of menace in the piano bass and the crystalline stream from the violin is laden with sad remembrance. After harmonic excursions have injected further anxiety, the final section is exuberant and purposeful. Marshall-Luck and Honeybourne communicate the work’s struggles and strifes, creating a persuasive emotional journey.
It is the final D major sonata, however, which is most assured and most compelling, even if Brahms and Saint-Saëns seem to have been sitting on Parry’s left and right shoulders during the compositional process. Parry had sought to study with Brahms and through his friend Walter Broadwood sought the assistance of violinist Joseph Joachim, though he was thwarted by the reply that Brahms did not take pupils. This sonata suggests that Parry learned from his idol through study and imitation, but that does not diminish the melodic richness, structural coherence and emotive impact of the D major sonata. The Allegro is notable for its confident melodic and dialogic writing. Marshall-Luck soars brightly – as I listened, a vision of Parry cresting the open waves on his boat, The Wanderer, kept coming to mind – and the performers inject an engaging tension and argument into the development of the material. The Andante throbs with tangible passion, though perhaps a little more give-and-take with the phrasing would deepen the emotional weight still further. There is vigour at start of Presto vivacissimo, recalling the violin’s exuberant flourish at the start of the final movement of Richard Strauss’s Eb Violin Sonata, and here the performers communicate real joy and commitment.
This is a fine and worthy collection. It might be the case that, for all Parry’s facility and articulacy, these works for violin and piano do not startle with their innovation or variety - but they are sincere in expression and played with generous warm-heartedness. The balance between the instrumentalists is excellent, and Marshall-Luck’s clean tone is judiciously foregrounded. The Wanderer will please Parry-enthusiasts and lovers of late nineteenth-century Romanticism alike, and good amateur players may well be inspired to seek out some of the scores for further pleasure. The set is to be highly recommended, alongside EMR’s recent release of Parry’s songs, With Harmony of Soul & Song, performed by Jeremy Huw Williams and Paula Fan - and, perhaps enjoyment of both might be enhanced by a simultaneous browse through Michael Trott’s Hubert Parry - A Life in Photographs.
Suite No.2 in F (world premiere recording)
Twelve Short Pieces for Violin and Piano: Set 1Violin Sonata No.1 in F major Op.80
Miniatures for Violin and Piano
Sonata in D Minor for Violin and Pianoforte
CD 2: Freundschaftslieder
Twelve Short Pieces for Violin and Piano: Set II
Partita in D minor (world premiere recording)
Miniatures for Violin and Piano (world premiere recording)
Fantasie-Sonata in Einem Satz für Violine und Clavier
Suite No.1 in D major for Violin and Pianoforte (world premiere recording)
Twelve Short Pieces for Violin and Piano: Set III
Two Early Pieces (‘Written at Weston for Ernst to play on his Violin’) (world premiere recording)
Miniatures for Violin and Piano
Sonata in D for Pianoforte and Violin