Tuesday 9 October 2018

Blowing the gloom away: Parry's Songs of Farewell from New College, Oxford

Parry - Songs of Farewell - Choir of New College Oxford
Parry Songs of Farewell, Mendelssohn Sechs Sprüche; Choir of New College, Oxford; novum Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 October 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Quinney and his young singers bring a beautiful clarity to Parry's elegiac work

This new disc of Hubert Parry's Songs of Farewell from Robert Quinney and the Choir of New College, Oxford, on its novum label, is based on Robert Quinney's new edition of the Songs of Farewell for Oxford University Press. The disc also includes Parry's Toccata and Fugue 'The Wanderer' , an early version of 'There is an old belief' from Songs of Farewell, and Parry's large scale anthem Hear my words, my people. But there is a surprise too, Mendelssohn's Sechs Sprüche, representing the European music which so influenced Parry.

Parry's Songs of Farewell is an elegiac work, full of thoughts of death and the transience of life, pregnant with the end of society as Parry knew it (the full set was premiered in 1919 after Parry's death, though he heard them all performed individually). To a certain extent, performing the work with a young choir takes daring. And the choir of New College is young, with trebles on the top line and the lower lines taken by students at the University. Except, that Parry used the word 'treble' for the top line in some of the autograph manuscripts, suggesting that he was thinking of a cathedral or collegiate choir rather than one with mixed voices. It is not a particularly religious work, the texts are diverse and God does not feature heavily, but the works were early on adopted by cathedral and collegiate choirs.

Quinney makes a virtue of the youth of his singers, capitalising on the clarity of the choir's sound, the separation between lines but also the capability of blending, and the lovely clear sound. and it does send a shiver down the spine to hear nine-year-olds singing 'Lord, let me know mine end' so beautifully. These young men are a long way from their end, but they are embedded in the Anglican choral tradition of which Parry was a part. So this performance is full of beautifully crafted details, passion and subtlety. Yet there is a slight coolness too, and perhaps the work benefits.

I have to admit that, much as I loved these performances, there were occasional corners which made the pieces sound not quite bedded in. But, this is a refreshing account of a much loved classic. And it is also fascinating to have Parry's early thoughts on 'There is an old belief'.

Parry's large-scale anthem Hear my words, ye people [a work performed at this year's BBC Proms, see my review] opens the disc. It starts well enough with a big organ introduction (organist Timothy Wakerell), but does get rather rambling as Parry interleaves chorus, a solo quartet (Oscar Bennett, Edward Beswick, Andrew Bennett, George Robards) and a solo baritone (Daniel Tate). The work was written for the Salisbury Diocesan Choral Association in 1894 and Parry's use of reduced forces was deliberately pragmatic, keeping the big chorus for key moments. Parry seems to have taken his inspiration from S.S. Wesley, but also from Bach's cantatas, yet for me it does not quite come together. And then suddenly there is the hymn, 'O worship the lord' at the end. The disc ends with Parry's Prelude and Fugue: The Wanderer (the name of Parry's yacht!) another late work written in 1912. It is a large scale chromatic romantic work which gives us another side to Parry and brings things to a fine close.

Mendelssohn's Sechs Sprüche were written for Berlin Cathedral between 1843 and 1846. They are wonderful little gems, and the choir certainly has these well under its collective belt. We don't hear enough of Mendelssohn's sacred music and at his best Mendelssohn's inspiration from music o the past drew good things from him. Here we have six short anthems for moments in the church's year (Christmas, New Year, Ascension, Passiontide, Advent, Good Friday), by turns vigorous, sophisticated, engaging and serious. The choir brings a lovely sense of excitement to the music within the essentially polite framework

Hubert Parry (1848-1918) - Hear my words ye people
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) - Sechs sprüche
Hubert Parry - Songs of Farewell
Hubert Parry - There is an old belief (early version)
Hubert Parry - Toccata and Fugue 'The Wanderer'
Choir of New College, Oxford
Timothy Wakerell (organ)
Robert Quinney (conductor)
Recorded in the chapel of New College, Oxford, 10-14 July 2017
novum NCR1394 1CD [78.43]
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots returns to the Paris Opera - Opera review
  • Modified Rapture: Verdi's Aida from the Met (★★★½) - Opera review
  • The Emperor's Fiddler - violinist David Irving on historical approaches on his new disc - interview
  • Schubert's Winter Journey - Robin Tritschler and Malcolm Martineau at Wigmore Hall  - (★★★★★Concert review
  • Swan songs - Gerald Finley and Julius Drake at Temple Song  (★★★★★)  - Concert review
  • Love & Obsession: Robert & Clara Schumann and Brahms at Conway Hall - concert review
  • New dance double bill from New English Ballet Theatre & The English Concert (★★★★)  - Ballet Review
  • Pared down & claustrophobic: La Tragédie de Carmen from Pop-Up Opera  (★★★) - Opera review
  • Vividly theatrical, lyrically sung, but.... - Salome at ENO  (★★★★) - Opera review
  • A forgotten tradition: premiere recordings of two English symphonic works from John Andrews & BBC Concert Orchestra (★★★½) - CD review
  • Huw Watkins - Two concertos and a symphony (★★★½) - CD review
  • Jiri Belohlavek & the Czech Philharmonic in Janacek (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Vital & optimistic: Halle Children's Choir in Jonathan Dove's A Brief History of Creation (★★★½) - CD review
  • Late Romantic: I chat to pianist Margaret Fingerhut  - Interview
  •  Home

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