Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918) was a huge figure in British music around the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. In addition to his role as Director of the Royal College of Music and his popular choral works, Jerusalem, I Was Glad and Blest Pair of Sirens his output encompasses, a large number of other choral works, orchestral works including five symphonies, one completed piano concerto, church music, music for the theatre, chamber works, piano works, organ works, and an impressive number of songs.
A major part of his song output consists of twelve sets of the English Lyrics, written between 1874 and his death in 1918. Somm Recordings www.somm-recordings.com have begun an undertaking to record all of Parry’s English Lyrics in three volumes.
Volume 1 of this new series has just been released featuring an impressive line-up with soprano, Susan Gritton www.askonasholt.co.uk/artists/singers/soprano/susan-gritton ; tenor, James Gilchrist www.jamesgilchrist.co.uk and baritone, Roderick Williams www.ingpen.co.uk/artist/roderick-williams with pianist Andrew West www.ram.ac.uk/about-us/staff/andrew-west
Arranged to provide a varied recital this new disc opens with all four songs from Set 1 (1881-85) commencing with My true love hath my heart a setting of a poem by Sir Philip Sydney that brings a beautifully expressive Susan Gritton with some very fine accompaniment from Andrew West. Good Night, a setting of Shelley, is a particularly fine song with lovely rippling piano accompaniment and Gritton bringing some fine shaping and phrasing. There is a lovely flowing rise and fall as well as some particularly sweet toned phrases.
Sir Walter Scott provides the verses for Where shall the lover rest that has a beautifully paced piano opening with some lovely long phrases from Gritton. This is another particularly fine song with nothing routine about this soprano’s performance, rising to moments of fine passion with some beautifully pure upper notes. Susan Gritton maintains a strong sense of emotion in Willow Song, a Shakespeare setting, bringing a lovely fluency.
Set 2 (1874-85) of the English Lyrics, all Shakespeare settings, follows with a livelier O Mistress Mine with James Gilchrist providing a fine sense of urgency. There is a more leisurely piano introduction to Take, O take those lips away with Gilchrist bringing some fine textures as this song weaves its way with some beautifully controlled power. With No longer mourn for me this tenor keeps a fine forward movement as well as a strong emotional pull with really sensitive accompaniment from Andrew West. Gilchrist and West give a terrific rhythmic lift to Blow, blow, thou winter wind, full of expression. Some lovely piano rhythms occur in When icicles hang by the wall with Gilchrist beautifully shaping this song.
Three songs from Set 3 (1895) follow, firstlyTo Lucasta on going to the wars, a setting of verses by Richard Lovelace, with West providing a real breadth as Roderick Williams brings his rich tones, full of strength, passion and sensitive control. Williams brings a real feeling to his performance of To Althea, from Prison, another Lovelace setting, drawing as much depth as possible from this song. West provides such a well-balanced accompaniment with spot on precision. Williams delivers a terrific characterisation to the setting of John Suckling’s Why so pale and wan full of wit and wry humour.
What fine control and sensitivity James Gilchrist brings to the fourth song from Set 4 (1885-96), Weep you no more a quite lovely setting of an anonymous text, exquisitely sung. Another song from Set 3 follows, Of all the torments, beautifully paced with a fine flow from Roderick Williams in this setting of William Walsh.
Susan Gritton returns for the fourth song from Set 5 (1876-1901), Lay a garland on my hearse a slow, sad setting from The Maid’s Tragedy by Beaumont and Fletcher, beautifully sung, rising in moments of passion and so well shaped. There is then a slow mournful Why art thou slow from Set 11 (1910-18) where Roderick Williams brings a fine gravity with subtle emphases to define the text.
There are five songs from the six that comprise Set 7 (1888-1906) with On a time the amorous Silvy finding Roderick Williams bringing a terrific characterisation with so many little subtleties despite the levity of the song. A brilliant performance of this setting of anonymous text.
Both Andrew West and Roderick Williams catch the fleeting nature of the lovely song Follow a shadow on verses by Ben Johnson. Thomas Heywood is the source of the text for Ye little birds that sit and sing. It brings a lighter style with Williams finding every little nuance and providing such fine agility.
With O never say that I was false of heart, a setting of Shakespeare, Williams and West find much to enjoy, despite its rather Victorian emotional thrust. The lighter Robert Herrick setting, Julia is lifted by Williams’ and West’s vibrant and fluent phrasing.
Susan Gritton returns for the sixth song from Set 10 (1909), One silent night of late, a more unusual setting of Herrick where this soprano brings fine phrasing and suitably youthful characterisation of the text. She receives a perfect accompaniment from West.
There are two songs from Set 12 (pub. 1920), firstly To blossoms where Andrew West brings a lovely pianistic flow and Susan Gritton some exquisitely shaped phases in this fine Robert Herrick setting. James Gilchrist returns for Rosaline, bringing a real passion with some beautifully refined phrasing drawing as much as possible from this setting of verses by Thomas Lodge before a particularly fine coda.
Next there is another song from Set 5, a Shakespeare setting, Crabbed age and youth where Susan Gritton delivers the most beautiful phrases, as does Andrew West. She later brings some very fine higher phrases and moments of sensitivity.
Under the greenwood tree is from Set 6 (pub. 1903) with Roderick Williams bringing a beautifully rich, strong performance of this Shakespeare setting, finding just the right way to handle such a text.
After these English Lyrics James Gilchrist sings Parry’s setting of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 32: If thou survive my well-contended day (1874) with James Gilchrist bringing a lovely flow with fine phrasing and beautifully subtle dynamics. Andrew West gives fine sensitive playing in this beautifully done song.
Gilchrist and West also bring us four of Parry’s settings of Shakespeare’s sonnets (1873-1882) that were translated into German by Friedrich Bodenstedt. He brings an urgency, a real ebb and flow to Sonnet 29: When in disgrace, a fine setting. Sonnet 87: Farewell, thou art too dear brings an equally strong performance with beautiful phrasing, sensitive to every nuance of text. West provides a lively rippling piano accompaniment to Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer's day as James Gilchrist brings a real sense of passion and forward drive. Superbly sung. There is a lovely restraint to Sonnet 30: When to the sessions wonderfully shaped and sensitively characterised rising to moments of passion, making a terrific conclusion to this recital.
With a superb line up of soloists and such a very fine accompanist this series looks set to be a major contribution to recorded English song. They receive an excellent recording produced by Siva Oke at the Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton, UK and there are first class notes from Parry biographer, Jeremy Dibble as well as full English and German texts and English translation.
This makes this an auspicious start to this series.