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WETA, September 2012

Reviewers have called this 2009 release “a perfect introduction” and “an excellent primer to Parry’s vocal music.” The combination of music both familiar and rare gives a fine overview of the choral compositions of this former director of the Royal College of Music.

The six Songs of Farewell, I was glad, Hear my words, ye people, two selections from the Great Service, and a chorus from the oratorio Judith make up the remainder of this release by the Manchester Cathedral Choir. © 2012 WETA Read complete review



John Quinn
MusicWeb International, August 2010

According to the list in the booklet, the Manchester Cathedral choir consists of fifteen trebles (eight of whom are girls), three male altos, three tenors and four basses. The size of the choir is a relevant consideration in evaluating this CD, as we shall see.
 
Their programme of Parry’s choral music includes some of his most celebrated pieces. They open with the 1902 Coronation anthem, I was glad, which comes over very well. I was particularly taken with the semi-chorus at “O pray for the peace of Jerusalem”. They sing this passage very well; indeed, as well as I can recall hearing it done. At the other end of the programme, perhaps inevitably, comes Jerusalem and, immediately before it, the chorus from the oratorio, Judith, which has achieved deserved renown as the tune for the hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.
 
Another famous hymn crops up in the anthem, Hear my word, ye people. The culmination of this anthem is the hymn, O Praise ye the Lord. Mind you, we have to wait quite a while for this fine tune to make its appearance. The anthem itself was written to be performed by massed forces at the 1894 Festival of the Salisbury Diocesan Choral Association. Much of the piece is scored for semi chorus (or solo quartet) with the full choir joining in only when the hymn is reached. I imagine that the intention was that the main body of the anthem would have been sung by the more expert choirs of the Salisbury diocese with the village choirs adding their vocal weight in the less complicated final section. Here the Manchester singers perform the whole thing and they make a good job of it. There’s an important bass solo, beginning at “Clouds and darkness are round about Him”, and soloist Mark Rowlinson makes a very favourable impression. Later, there’s an extended passage, beginning at “He delivered the poor in his affliction”. In my copy that’s marked as a soprano solo but here it’s sung by unison trebles - not all of the trebles, I suspect - and these confident young singers do it very well. To be honest, I think the anthem is about five minutes too long for its material - I enjoy singing it more than listening to it - but it’s still well worth hearing and it’s done very effectively here.
 
The earlier set of Evening Canticles, written at the behest of Stanford for the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, are sturdy and reliable and somewhat conservative in tone. The gentle Nunc dimittis is rather lovely. I don’t know if these canticles feature in the Manchester choir’s regular repertoire but they sing them well and with assurance.
 
The centrepiece of their programme is the Songs of Farewell. These six wonderful anthems for unaccompanied choir are among Parry’s finest vocal works, technically demanding and containing music that’s often not just eloquent but emotionally searching. As the set progresses they become increasingly testing for the singers and the number of vocal parts expands. The first two pieces are in four parts, then in each successive piece Parry adds a vocal line until the final piece, ‘Lord, let me know mine end’, which is luxuriantly laid out for two four-part choirs. I’m very sorry to have to report that, in my view, the scope of these pieces is a bit beyond the resources of the Manchester choir.
 
In saying this I don’t mean to suggest for a moment that they don’t sing well - that would be most unfair - though, following in the score I felt that on many occasions more could and should have been made of the dynamic contrasts that Parry writes in most scrupulously. No, the real problem is that the choir just isn’t big enough as Parry progressively requests larger vocal forces. So the first two pieces, ‘My soul, there is a country’ and ‘I know my soul hath power’, which are both written in four parts, come over quite well. However, in the third piece, the five-part ‘Never weather-beaten sail’ doubts begin to creep in. To my ears there simply isn’t enough variety of dynamics or expression and the choir lacks the necessary reserves of power to do full justice to Parry’s music. And in the last three pieces, where the parts multiply still further, there aren’t enough singers on the lower parts to achieve the requisite balance. Indeed, throughout the whole set the texture is too treble-dominated. 

I deliberately didn’t listen to any comparative versions of the Songs of Farewell for the simple reason that all the recordings in my collection are by mixed adult choirs, so I felt I would be comparing apples and pears. Eventually, however, I did sample one alternative version to check that my judgements weren’t unduly harsh. The version I chose was by the Rodolfus Choir conducted by Ralph Allwood (Herald HAVPCD 217) and the reason for choosing this was that the singers in that choir are all young people. Allwood’s choir is clearly larger, though not hugely so, and much better balanced as a result. Crucially, the lower parts register much more and the dynamic markings are much more closely observed. As a result, Parry’s textures are far more accurately rendered. I also noticed that Allwood is much more spacious in his approach to the last two songs and the extra breadth he brings to the music is entirely appropriate.
 
I’m sorry that I can’t be more enthusiastic about this recording of the Songs of Farewell. They say that size isn’t everything but on this occasion it matters a great deal. If the Manchester Cathedral choir had had a couple more each of altos, tenors and basses in their ranks I’m sure the performance would have been more successful, to match the rest of the programme. As it is, if you’re buying this CD principally for the Songs of Farewell then I feel duty bound to suggest that there are better alternatives on the market. However, it’s only fair to point out that my colleague, John France, who knows a thing or two about English music, reacted very positively to this collection.



Howard Goodall
Classic FM, February 2010

This fantastic survey of Parry’s sacred choral works, including I Was Glad and Songs of Farewell, makes a great argument for the composer’s inclusion into the ranks of the great composers.



Jeremy Dibble
Gramophone, December 2009

Clarity and control in ‘cathedral’ readings of a Parry choral collection

The performances of the “Great” Service and the two grand pièces d’occasion, I was glad and Hear my words, are sung with conviction, rhythmical vitality and control, and sensitively accompanied by Jeffrey Makinson (not least in the extensive baritone aria of Hear my words, sympathetically interpreted by Mark Rowlinson)…



Lindsay Koob
American Record Guide, November 2009

…the performance here are mostly excellent. Christopher Stokes’s fine Manchester Cathedral Choir (with a sweet blend of boy and girl choristers) sound vibrant and accomplished…Good sound and booklet quality, too…so English choral fans should be aware of this album.



Terry Blain
BBC Music Magazine, November 2009

All told, this fine CD is an excellent primer to Parry’s vocal music.



Andrew Stewart
Classic FM, October 2009

Bright-toned trebles, both male and female, immediately catch the ear in Manchester Cathedral Choir’s wonderfully confident survey of Parry’s sacred choral hits…At budget price, this disc provides an ideal introduction to Parry’s art.



John France
MusicWeb International, August 2009

This is a perfect introduction to the choral music of Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. The repertoire covers his three most popular choral works alongside three great works that are typically known to Parry enthusiasts and those who inhabit the organ loft or choir stalls: the two groups are not mutually exclusive. I did a little survey: I asked five people (not British Music fans) to name a piece of music by Parry. Only one was able to suggest Jerusalem, but added that it might have been by Elgar…The other four, unsurprisingly, had heard of this great hymn, but the composer remained a blank spot.

The CD gets off to a great start with the anthem I was glad. It was originally written for the Coronation of Edward VII and was also performed at the Service for George VI and the present Queen. Manchester Cathedral Choir cope well with this powerful music and the organ is heard to impressive effect. As is traditional, the acclamations of ‘Vivat Rex’ or ‘Regina’ are omitted in this recording. One wonders if this anthem will be used at subsequent Coronations (long, long may that be in the future) or whether something more egalitarian and balanced towards ‘world music’ will be the order of the day?

The Great Service in D major is a fine piece of choral music that can be used in both a liturgical or concert setting. At nearly nine minutes the Magnificat may be a little long for St Swithun’s Parish Church Evensong, but in Cathedrals this would be an acceptable length. Both parts of the Canticles reveal a confident composer who is totally at home in the world of Anglican Church music. The service was written in 1881 for Trinity College Cambridge, however it was not published until 1984. This is a great setting that is a million miles away from the popular view that Victorian church music was over-sentimental and stodgy.

The Songs of Farewell are quite simply stunning. This is a major work that explores feelings about the transience of life and involves much reflection by the composer back across the years of his musical achievement. Parry stated that, at seventy years of age, he had reached ‘the last milestone.’ It would be a project worthy of a dissertation or a thesis to explore the composer’s religious sensibilities at this time in his life. He was not a conventionally Christian believer and would have seen the texts in a personal context rather than liturgical. Yet each of these motets is deeply moving and invariably inspiring.

I guess that many habitués of cathedral and parish churches will know the opening My Soul, there is a country - a fine setting of Henry Vaughan’s fundamentally optimistic words. Yet the remaining five motets are less often performed and less well known. The composer provides considerable interest in these subsequent motets by use of varying number of parts and a fine balance of a fundamentally harmonic language over against more complex but never ‘academic’ contrapuntal workings.

Perhaps the mood of the entire collection is best summed up by the last motet Lord, let me know mine end. The last words of this psalm ask God to ‘O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength before I go hence and be no more seen’. Hardly the thoughts of a confident evangelical who ‘knew’ that he was going to join the saints in glory but more those of a deep-seated agnostic.

For me the most beautiful work on this CD is Hear my words, ye people. It is a compendium of texts taken from the Old Testament books of Job, Isaiah and the Psalms. The work was originally composed for the 1894 Festival of the Salisbury Diocesan Choral Association. Unbelievably, it was conceived for 2000 singers with a semi-chorus of some 400! There was an organ accompaniment and brass band present the first performance. The choral music part was kept relatively simple, as there was little time for rehearsal. The more complex music was given to the soprano and baritone soloists. In this recording the baritone part is sung by Mark Rowlinson: the other solo parts are taken by groups of choristers. The work concludes with the well-known hymn O Praise ye the Lord, which was a paraphrase of Psalm 150 by Sir Henry Baker. Something tells me that this ‘pared-down’ version is actually more effective and satisfying than the original. It is a truly gorgeous work that ought to have a secure place in the repertoire.

The penultimate piece is from the oratorio Judith. Many folk will know the hymn-tune Repton, which accompanies the words Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, without realising the source of the text and the music. Judith was a highly successful oratorio, which was first performed in 1888. The words are from a poem entitled The Brewing of Soma by the American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier. It is given here with great variety of dynamics and constant attention to the meaning of the words.

Jerusalem is the last piece on this CD. Naturally, it is in Parry’s incarnation—with organ accompaniment rather than the gorgeous, but manifestly overblown Elgarian version. No matter how many times I hear this work I cannot help feeling that it is one of the finest hymns ever composed on Earth or in Heaven. For the record it was written during the Great War at the suggestion of Robert Bridges and Walford Davies for a ‘Fight for Right’ meeting at the Queen’s Hall in London.

The quality of the recording is superb, the programme notes by Keith Anderson are suitably informative and the texts of all the works are provided. The cover picture is entitled ‘Beach Sunset’ and presumably alludes to the ‘Country beyond the Stars’. Yet it has a definite feel of Morecambe Bay about it…This present recording is a fine monument to a great musical and ecclesiastical tradition. It will be an essential addition to many collections.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2009

Today’s reputation of Charles Hubert Parry largely resides in two choral pieces, the anthem, I was glad when they said unto me and Jerusalem, a work immortalised as part of the UK’s ‘Last Night at the Proms’ concerts. Born into a wealthy family, his early career was largely outside of music, but major appointments in music education during the second half of his life ensured that his works were brought to public attention. He wrote in most genre, his output of vocal and choral scores dating back to his schooldays, and while his symphonic output was largely German inspired, his church music was in the English tradition. He had turned fifty by the time he was writing his major vocal scores, the extended Songs of Farewell, for unaccompanied chorus, leaning towards religion and ending with an arrangement of Psalm Thirty-nine. He did attempt to enter the field of oratorio but with little lasting success, Long since in Egypt’s plenteous land from Judith being a singular survivor. The disc opens with I was glad, a work that exists in several formats, the most popular being that heard at the Coronation of Edward VII and played at each coronation since. That version you will hear, together with a traditional Jerusalem, in a stunning Naxos disc recorded by the English Northern Philharmonia and Leeds Festival Chorus. This new release also comes from the north of England with the highly regarded choir of Manchester Cathedral. It is not a large group, and under their conductor, Christopher Stokes, it sings in that traditional unhurried English church style, and only in the last part of Songs of Farewell  do they find a little difficult. Hear them in track 11—the Judith extract—and find them at their best. The recorded sound is pleasant.






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