In concert – English Music Festival Christmas Concerts

Em Marshall-Luck (narrator), Heather Wrighton (harp), Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin), Duncan Honeybourne (piano)

Parish Alvars Romance in F (1842)
Lewis Four Anticke Dances (2015)
Rutter Dancing Day – Interlude (1974)
Britten A Ceremony of Carols – Interlude (1942)
Adie Festive Fantasy (2018)
Thomas Cambria (1863)
Parry Freundschaftslieder (1872)
Various A Christmas Garland (2020) [World Premiere Performance]

St. Mary’s Church, Horsham, 17 December 2020

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

Christmas events have inevitably been few and far between this season, thereby making these concerts by the English Music Festival especially welcome – the more so given that St Mary’s Horsham proved to be an ideal location for music-making of such intimacy and inwardness.

A tale of two contrasted halves saw the first devoted to music for the harp – opening with the doyen of 19th-century practitioners, Elias Parish Alvars, whose Romance eloquently spanned the gamut of possibilities from winsome introspection to dextrous virtuosity. Paul Lewis has done much to enrich the modern repertoire, his Four Anticke Dances evoking various dance-measures of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras through melodies entirely original yet wholly avoiding pastiche. Two interludes from well-known larger collections followed, the ethereal remoteness of that from John Rutter’s Dancing Day contrasting with the delicate playfulness of that from Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, then Harriet Adie’s Festive Fantasy combined 12 carols in various moods and styles for what is a gift to this instrument. Heather Wrighton rendered this and all those preceding pieces with unfailing assurance; joining with Duncan Honeybourne for Cambria by John Thomas, whose pioneering work in dissemination of Welsh music amply demonstrated in elaborate arrangements of three traditional melodies.

The second half commenced with Freundschaftslieder, four (from a likely total of six) pieces in which the young Parry confirmed growing assurance as a composer. If not overly cohesive, these make for a diverting sequence – whether in the harmonic and rhythmic ambivalence of a Nocturne in G minor, listless agitation of an Allegro in C minor, speculative unfolding of a Ballade in D minor, or confiding wistfulness of an Andante in E major whose subtitle The Confidence of Love underlines Parry’s adherence to an earlier era of musical Romanticism.

Rupert Marshall-Luck rendered these pieces with no mean virtuosity; then he, Honeybourne and narrator Em Marshall-Luck came together for the first hearing of A Christmas Garland – an anthology centred upon the theme of Christmas. It opened with John Pickard’s idiomatic arrangement of his choral piece O Magnum Mysterium, continuing with Richard Pantcheff’s luminous setting of Rilke’s The Annunciation to Mary then restrained fervency of Graham Keitch’s Intrada; prior to Cecilia McDowell’s ruminative take on Christina Rosetti’s Before the paling of Stars. EMF regular Richard Blackford contributed the atmospheric piano piece Christmas Dawn, leading to the elegiac tones of Paul Lewis’s setting of his poem Will There be Snow? and Paul Carr’s appealing take on Rosetti’s evergreen In the Bleak Midwinter. The piano miniatures of Roderick Williams’s Winterscapes provided a pertinent interlude before David Matthews’s entrancing (if unfinished?) setting of Anne Brontë’s Music on Christmas Morning, then James MacMillan’s paraphrase on his setting of John Donne’s poem Nativity.

Paul Lewis re-emerged with an elegant song-and-dance Christmas Twosome in the guise of Fireside Carol and Christmas Waltz, then came Thomas Hewitt Jones’s Sleigh ride with a tired reindeer: as humorous yet speculative a conclusion as one written in 2020 needed to be.

Further information can be found at the English Music Festival website

Online recommendations – Gramophone Charity Gala & English Music Festival

To hopefully boost your Monday evening Arcana has two recommendations for online music – one recently given and a whole festival of music later in the month to look forward to.

Last night Gramophone magazine held the Gramophone Classical Music Awards Winners Charity Lockdown Gala, a three-hour event whose purpose was ‘to support musicians whose work has dried up due to the Covid-19 crisis, and who are finding themselves in severe financial difficulty’. You can watch on YouTube below, with the concert available until this Sunday 17 May – and you can donate on the links given at the link too:

The program was richly entertaining, from the Zoom-based capers (and brilliant singing) of I Fagiolini performing Monteverdi to a number of sublime excursions into the world of solo Bach, led by Sir Antonio Pappano. There were special performances from guitarist Sean Shibe, in a selection of Scottish lute tunes, pianist Vikingur Ólafsson in Rameau, Beatrice Rana and Boris Giltburg playing Chopin, Ian and Oliver Bostridge performing Beethoven and the Pavel Haas Quartet playing Dvořák.

Meanwhile the enterprising team behind the English Music Festival, scheduled for May and inevitably cancelled, have ensured the event will take place online. They have rustled up a most impressive programme, with concerts featuring recordings from the ‘house’ label EM Records but, most excitingly, with online concerts from violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck, cello and piano team Joseph Spooner and Nicholas Bosworth, Ensemble Hesperi and pianists Paul Guinery and Duncan Honeybourne (above)

For more information and to donate / buy tickets, you can visit the festival’s programme page here

On record: Rupert Marshall-Luck, Duncan Honeybourne – Parry: The Wanderer – Complete works for violin and piano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin), Duncan Honeybourne (piano)

Parry
Suite no.2 in F major (1907)
Twelve Short Pieces for Violin and Piano: Set 1 (1894)
Violin Sonata no.1 in F major Op.80
Miniatures for Violin and Piano
Sonata in D Minor for violin and piano (1875)
Freundschaftslieder (1872)
Twelve Short Pieces for Violin and Piano: Set 2 (1894)
Partita in D minor (1873)
Miniatures for Violin and Piano
Fantasie-Sonata in Einem Satz für Violine und Clavier (1878)
Suite no.1 in D major for violin and piano (1907)
Twelve Short Pieces for Violin and Piano: Set 3 (1894)
Two Early Pieces (‘Written at Weston for Ernst to play on his Violin’) (1863)
Miniatures for violin and piano
Sonata in D major for piano and violin (1888)

EM Records EMRCD050-52 [three discs, 164’19”]

Recorded 28-30 April 2016, Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk

Producer Matthew Bennett
Engineer Dave Rowell

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

EM Records issues one of its most important releases to date, the complete works for violin and piano by Hubert Parry – the centenary of whose death occurred on October 7th last year – in what is a notable addition to the expanding discography of this still-neglected composer.

What’s the music like?

Parry’s output for violin and piano falls into two types. Firstly, shorter pieces equivalent to the French morceau or German album-blatt have been collated as the 10 Miniatures (not the composer’s title). Probably dating from his later years though never published in his lifetime, they present no great difficulties for players or listeners and were likely intended for domestic music-making. Also in this category come the Two Early Pieces, the teenage composer demonstrating an ambition that only just exceeds his technical skill at this juncture.

More advanced are the remaining short pieces, of which the Freundschaftslieder marks his early engagement with the early-Romanticism of Schubert and Mendelssohn. These four surviving (out of five) pieces unfold as a sequence of gradually intensifying expression, set in motion by the wistful poise of ‘The confidence of love’. Collated in 1894, the 12 Short Pieces were published in three sets of four – of which the exquisite ‘Idyll’ (Set 1 No 1), the eloquent ‘Romance’ (2/2) and ingratiating ‘Envoi’ (3/4) ought to find favour as frequent encore items.

The larger works are all direct and substantial engagements with the legacies of Schumann and Brahms. Bach, even, in the Partita in D minor, though these six movements only approximate to Baroque archetypes – with Parry cutting loose in a teasingly ironic Bourées fantastiques then animated Passepied en rondo. If the Sonata in D minoris a little too indebted to its models, for all its technical mastery and purposeful virtuosity, the Sonata in D ranks among his finest achievements in its formal focus and expressive impetus.

Equally engaging is the Fantasie-Sonate in B, not least for the skill with which Parry integrates its four contrasted sections into a single movement whose emotional breadth looks forward to his last orchestral works. Both published in 1907 though originating much earlier, the Suites are more relaxed in manner while being typical of their composer’s maturity; for which sample either fourth movement – the Suite in D’s tonally questing Dialogue, or the Suite in F’s harmonically subtle Retrospective with its evocative recalling of earlier ideas.

Does it all work?

Yes, not least because of the performers – Rupert Marshall-Luck endowing violin lines with real flexibility and Duncan Honeybourne ensuring some densely chorded piano parts never feel overbearing; both players overcoming any tendency to registral or rhythmic uniformity. Not all this music was unrecorded: Erich Gruenberg tackled the Sonata in D, Fantasie-Sonate and 12 Short Pieces in 1985 (Hyperion), while Marshall-Luck set down the three sonatas only a decade ago (Radegund), but the present accounts set new standards for these works overall.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The sound offers a realistic perspective on this difficult medium, with detailed notes about each piece (by Jeremy Dibble?). Along with the string quartets (MPR) and piano trios (Hyperion), almost all of Parry’s chamber output is now available in authoritative recordings.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about the release on the EM Recordings website, and for more information on the two performers, visit the websites of Rupert Marshall-Luck and Duncan Honeybourne respectively.