Royal composers – Sir Hubert Parry: I Was Glad

by Ben Hogwood

Our brief survey of coronation music arrives at the quintessential choral anthem, Sir Hubert Parry‘s I Was Glad.

Completed in 1902, Parry’s work sets the text of Psalm 122. It was not the first setting of the psalm, with Henry Purcell and William Boyce – royal composers themselves – setting the texts for coronations of James II (1685) and George III (1761) respectively.

Parry’s is the version we hear most often today, used in the coronation of King Edward VII in its year of composition, then for the Coronation, silver, diamond and platinum jubilees of Queen Elizabeth II, not to mention the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981, then William and Kate in 2011.

In a resplendent B flat major, the piece has it all – grand trumpet fanfares, thunderous organ lines, and thrilling choral lines that have been seized on gratefully by choral societies around Britain. Little wonder that it has been chosen for such important occasions, for in a good performance Parry’s exultant piece comfortably fills a cathedral.

In concert – Soloists, Tonbridge Philharmonic Society / Naomi Butcher – Music by Fanny & Felix Mendelssohn, Vivaldi, Parry & Eugene Butler

tps

Parry I Was Glad (1902, revised 1911)
Vivaldi Gloria in D major RV589 (c1715)
Eugene Butler Song of Mine, Depart (unknown)
Fanny Mendelssohn Overture in C major (c1830-32)
Felix Mendelssohn Symphony no.3 in A minor Op.56 (1831-42)

Rebecca Milford (soprano), Katie Macdonald (mezzo-soprano), Tonbridge Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra / Naomi Butcher

Chapel of St Augustine, Tonbridge School, Tonbridge
Saturday 20 November 2021

Written by Ben Hogwood

There was a keen air of expectation in the regal surroundings of the Chapel of St Augustine at Tonbridge School. The pandemic has wrought havoc with choral and orchestral plans over the last two years, and as such this was the first opportunity for the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society to celebrate their 75th anniversary. They did so with a new music director, Naomi Butcher (below) at the helm – and she delivered a typically enterprising programme.

There could hardly have been a more appropriate way to start than with Parry‘s jubilant anthem I Was Glad, the choir singing the opening line as one. This was a terrific performance, the audience in spatial stereo as the sound of the organ, commandingly played at the south end by Julian Thomas, and the choir, at the north end, met in the middle. That both forces were so closely aligned said much for Butcher’s musical instincts.

The new music director – the Philharmonic Society’s first woman conductor – introduced herself, in the process revealing the enthusiasm and passion at the heart of her conducting. There was great musicality, too, evident throughout a vibrant and magnificently sung account of Vivaldi’s Gloria. The daring choice of a fast tempo for the Gloria itself was a challenge met head on by the choir, while the fugue of Cum Sancto Spiritu was given impressive authority by the spirited bass section.

The two soloists, soprano Rebecca Milford and mezzo-soprano Katie Macdonald, found the ideal balance with a reduced orchestra to fill the chapel in the arias. The Et in terra pax section was suitably darker in colour, prompted by Vivaldi’s minor-key harmonies, before Macdonald’s fulsome mezzo came into its own for the Qui sedes section. Meanwhile Milford’s clear soprano was the ideal foil for the sensitively played continuo group in the Domine Deus, giving full voice to Vivaldi’s inspiration.

To finish the first half we heard Eugene Butler’s Song of Mine, Depart, a setting by the prolific American composer of verse by Paul Verlaine. This made an attractive encore piece, its lilting refrain nicely phrased by the choir with melodic keyboard accompaniment.

Tonbridge Philharmonic concerts are known for their original repertoire selections, and the inclusion of Fanny Mendelssohn’s Overture in C major – her only known orchestral piece and seemingly a recent discovery – made for a bracing beginning to the second half. The orchestral writing is surprisingly full for its time, to these ears even pointing the way towards Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, but there was still room for the attractive melodies to make themselves known, especially the balletic second theme.

The Overture led straight into the Scottish Symphony by Fanny’s brother, Felix Mendelssohn – the siblings closely linked throughout their personal and professional lives. The Scottish, third of five in Felix’s symphonic canon, is one of the jewels in his output. Its craft and wholesome melodic invention were brought to the fore here, with tempo choices from Butcher (above) that felt just right. These included the solemn opening – where the woodwind choir deserve great credit for their phrasing – to the open-air scherzo, where the violins and solo clarinet (Amanda Curd) were especially good. The Scottish outdoors was painted vividly here, its fresh air palpable – as was also the case in a heartfelt slow movement where Butcher cajoled some lovely phrasing from the orchestra. The finale was a darkness to light experience, thoughtful to begin with but blossoming as the music moved into the major key and an ultimately triumphant conclusion.

It is worth allowing for the fact that many musicians may have lost the ability or even motivation to practice during the pandemic – but there was no evidence of standards having changed here. Rather, with passionate performances from choir, orchestra and conductor alike, Naomi Butcher has brought a breath of fresh air to the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society. Her next few concerts include Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Duruflé and Sibelius, and if they live up to the standards set by this enticing opener they will be well worth catching.

For further information on the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society click here

On record – Duncan Honeybourne: De Profundis Clamavi (EM Records)

de-profundis-clamavi

Armstrong Gibbs An Essex Rhapsody Op.36 (1921); Ballade in D flat (1940)
Bainton Variations and Fugue in B minor Op.1 (1898); The Making of the Nightingale (1921); Willows (1927)
Bridge Piano Sonata H160 (1921-4)
Britten Night Piece ‘Notturno’ (1963)
Edmunds Piano Sonata in B minor (1938)
Pantscheff Nocturnus V: Wing oor die Branders (2015); Piano Sonata (2017)
Parry Shulbrede Tunes (1914)

Duncan Honeybourne (piano)

EM Records EMRCD070-71 [two discs, 156’46”]

Producer Oscar Torres & Richard Pantcheff
Engineer Oscar Torres

Recorded 20 & 21 August 2020 at Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Never a pianist to pull his punches, Duncan Honeybourne adds to his expanding discography with this extensive survey of British piano music which, written across almost 120 years and evincing a range of styles, more than reinforces the descriptive heading of the overall project.

What’s the music like?

The first disc begins with the Piano Sonata by Christopher Edmunds. Birmingham-born and long active at the School of Music there, he left a sizable output from which the present work impresses through its wide expressive range within modest formal dimensions. The opening Allegro recalls Medtner in its pivoting between fervency and repose, then the Lento strikes a note of heartfelt emotion underlined by its ‘mesto’ marking. Utilizing aspects of scherzo and finale, the closing Allegro returns to more extrovert concerns as it arrives at a virtuosic close.

Edgar Bainton was still in his teens when composing the Variations and Fugue which became his first acknowledged work. Brahms is a key influence, but the music’s motivic and textural discipline ensures a formal focus throughout the nine deftly contrasted variations then into a tensile and vividly cumulative fugue. Remembered primarily for his songs, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs wrote idiomatically for the piano as is demonstrated by the intricate passagework and often bravura writing of An Essex Rhapsody, while the later Ballade exudes deeper emotion – not least an ominous central section with undeniable overtones of war. Part of a compendious sequence exploring different aspects of night, Richard Pantcheff’s Nocturnus V: Wind on the Waves follows a trajectory of impending marine turbulence that duly regains its earlier calm.

Written at the home of his daughter’s family, Shulbrede Tunes finds Hubert Parry reflecting on domestic environs in a methodically constructed cycle – the 10 pieces taking in evocations of the priory and people within. A lively humour informs Bogies and Sprites that Gambol by Nights, with a ruminative pathos to the fore in Prior’s Chamber by Firelight. Here, as in the exuberant Father Playmate, the aging composer’s devotion to Austro-German romanticism results in music which is as affecting as Parry’s orchestral and choral works from this period.

The second disc opens with two further pieces by Bainton. From among his many miniatures, Willow is a limpidly impressionist album-leaf of no mean poignancy, then The Making of the Nightingale evokes this bird’s creation in imaginative terms that are appealingly realized here. Written for the first Leeds International Piano Competition, Benjamin Britten’s Night Piece is the only acknowledged piano work from his maturity – a study in dynamic and timbral nuance of a finesse as to make one regret his stated antipathy for the modern piano on its own terms.

It is the Piano Sonata by Frank Bridge (placed before the Britten) which inevitably dominates this collection, not least as this recording is among the finest from recent years. Testimony to the composer’s response to the carnage of war as well as its impact on his evolving idiom, the three movements unfold as a single cumulative entity – the sizable opening Allegro preceded by a slow introduction whose main motivic elements are gradually elaborated for the ensuing opposition between anguish and eloquence. The savage rhetoric of its close makes the contrast with the Andante’s consoling rumination more acute, the music as if surveying a landscape of memories which elides straight into the final Allegro with its renewed confrontation of earlier motifs – on the way to a stark denouement then a resigned and almost confessional epilogue.

Pantcheff’s almost contemporary Piano Sonata rounds off this collection. Its three movements each carries an inscription from the epic poem The Axion Esti by Odysseus Elytis that sets the tone for a restive and increasingly tumultuous Inquieto, followed by an Elegia whose sombre imagery might feel almost nihilistic were it not for the plaintive expression that emerges in its latter stages, then a finale whose Alla Vortice marking aptly indicates the gradual intensifying of mood which carries this movement – and the work as a whole – towards its explosive close.

Does it all work?

Undoubtedly, when heard as a collection. Honeybourne has been astute in his planning so that each disc can be appreciated as a stand-alone recital in its own right, or as independent halves of an ‘uber-recital’ which even he would be unlikely to undertake in a live context. All except the Bridge, Britten and Parry are receiving their first recordings, and it would be surprising if some pieces did not enjoy greater exposure in future. For his dedication in championing them, and for putting together such an ambitious anthology, Honeybourne can only be commended.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. The piano sound is a shade hard at climaxes, while spacious and wide-ranging elsewhere, with detailed notes on each work and composer from various sources including the pianist. It adds up to an impressive release and a highlight of the EM Records catalogue so far.

Listen & Buy

You can discover more about this release and listen to clips at the EM Records website, where you can also purchase the recording. For more on Duncan Honeybourne, visit his website – and for more on Richard Pantcheff click here

Tenebrae & Nigel Short: Sacred Songs – The Secrets of Our Hearts

The Coronavirus pandemic looks set to change the way we listen to music for ever – and hopefully in a good way. Certainly if this ‘socially distanced’ concert from Tenebrae, given on BBC4 on Easter Day, is anything to go by. The 20 singers were arranged in the form of a conventional choir, to the viewer at least, but they all recorded their contributions remotely.

Thanks to this BBC4 were able to intricately stitch together a memorable half-hour sequence of music from J.S. Bach, Lobo, Purcell and Hubert Parry, an excerpt from his Songs of Farewell. Allegri’s timeless Miserere is also included.

While the togetherness and chemistry is inevitably not what it would have been had the choir been in the same room, this is an extraordinary achievement by the choir and their conductor Nigel Short. It is also one you can enjoy in your own place of lockdown for the next month, so make sure you watch in good time!

Tenebrae, conducted by Nigel Short, sing the following music:
J.S. Bach Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden
Lobo Versa est in luctum
Allegri Miserere
Purcell/Croft Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts
Parry My soul, there is a country
J.S. Bach Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein

You can watch the concert 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.