Composers Hubert Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford and Edward Elgar dominated the British musical scene in the latter half of the Victorian age through the Edwardian era. Albums of Parry's music have been rare lately, so this new recording by Neeme Järvi and BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales is most welcome. Except for Parry's ever-popular Jerusalem, all the selections here are world premiere recordings.
The album opens with music written for King George V's coronation in 1911, the Te Deum for chorus and orchestra. Six trumpets, commanding low pedal points and hints of the familiar "St. Anne" and "Old Hundredth" hymn tunes make it a sonorously regal piece.
For the nationalistic choral song England, from 1918, Parry turned to Shakespeare, paraphrasing John of Gaunt's famous second act monologue in Richard II. Lasting under four minutes, it's set to one of those inspiring melodies British composers of this period so regularly came up with.
The only purely orchestral work on the album is Parry's colorful suite from incidental music he wrote for an 1883 Cambridge University production of The Birds by Aristophanes. Highlights include an airy "Introduction," a twittering "Entry of the Birds," a Wagnerian "Entr'acte" and the "Bridal March of the Birds," which is another of those big British tunes anticipating Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance marches.
That beloved old chestnut Jerusalem, for soprano, chorus and orchestra (from 1916), is performed in Parry's original orchestration. It is a refreshing change from Elgar's more vaunting version of 1922, heard each year as the closing number of the Proms concerts.
The Glories of Our Blood and State, a setting of a poem by James Shirley, reflects Parry's admiration for Brahms, with whom Parry once tried to study. And the Magnificat for soprano, chorus and orchestra (from 1897) owes a debt to J.S. Bach, whom Parry also greatly revered.
Dedicated to Queen Victoria on her Diamond Jubilee, the Magnificat is in five sections with an emphasis on counterpoint, as well as other Baroque devices, and takes its cue from Bach's own Magnificat (BWV 243). This is quite apparent in the exultant opening, while the third part, "Et misericordia," is a choral meditation with a moving violin obbligato, and one of Parry's loveliest moments. The finale ends with an exciting fugue and cyclic reminder of the work's opening measures.
Järvi, soprano Amanda Roocroft and the chorus and orchestra deliver stirring performances fit for this rarely heard music from one of England's finest.
Bob McQuiston revels in under-the-radar repertoire at his website Classical Lost and Found.