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Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
Twelve sets of English Lyrics – Volume II
Sarah Fox (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone), Andrew West (piano)
rec. 2017, Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton, UK
Full sung texts included
SOMM RECORDINGS SOMMCD270 [61:05]

The year 2018 marks the centenary of Hubert Parry’s death and Somm has released the second volume of Parry’s Twelve sets of English Lyrics an album of twenty-three songs. In 2016 two MWI colleagues seemed reasonably impressed in their reviews of the first volume in the series. There are many riches to be discovered on this album and I would think that most of them are rarely heard in the recital hall today.

In the manner of Schubert with his beloved texts of the leading German poets a couple of generations earlier, Parry was fired by works of the great English poets and wrote twelve sets of English Lyrics between around 1874 right up to his death with his final two sets published posthumously. The burgeoning admiration for English song especially in London around the 1890s would have provided a backdrop and motivation for Parry, benefiting from many of his songs being sung by Irish baritone Harry Plunket Greene who married Parry’s daughter in 1899. Although this second volume extends across five centuries Parry was clearly drawn to the verse of Elizabethan and Jacobean era, less so the eighteenth-century poets but firmly enamoured of the English and Scottish Romantic poets primarily contained on this volume such as Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, John Keats, Walter Scott and Mary Elizabeth Coleridge is represented by seven songs settings.

Soprano Sarah Fox has the lion’s share with thirteen songs including all seven of the Coleridge settings. Standing out is ‘When we two parted’ a setting of a Lord Byron text. Byron was said to be having an affair with the married Lady Frances Webster, and the text is thought to be Byron’s reaction upon hearing of her rumoured relationship with Duke of Wellington. A fine example of Fox’s interpretive qualities, one can hear the deep sorrow and despair together with a meaningful sense of introspection. Of the Coleridge settings, of note is ‘The Witches’ Wood’ with Fox demonstrating attractiveness of tone and successful reach to her high register whilst reveling in the eerie nocturnal fantasy world of evil spirits. James Gilchrist performs only three tenor songs and on this evidence it’s a shame we don’t hear more of him. Most enjoyable of his contributions is ‘Bright Star!’ a setting of a John Keats lyric poem said to be written in admiration of his fiancée, Fanny Brawne. Very much at one with the broad emotional scope of the text which features imagery of the natural world, Gilchrist’s firm and sincere voice has an attractive, expressive tone successfully achieving a slightly dark and wistful undertone. Baritone Roderick Williams is represented by seven songs with my favourite ‘What part of dread eternity’ written to an anonymous text which it seems might even be Parry’s own. In the notes Dibble highlights the Tristanesque chromatism of the writing. Williams’ renowned steadiness is conspicuous here together with such impressive projection and clarity of diction as he successfully communicates the agony of parting. Top drawer piano accompaniment from Andrew West being especially sensitive and not pushing the soloists.

Recorded at Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton the sound quality feels completely natural being clear and well balanced between singer and piano. The booklet essay is written by Parry specialist Jeremy Dibble which is as authoritative as one expects. I am delighted to report that full sung texts are included in the booklet. My minor grumble is the relatively short playing time of just over an hour which is around ten minutes less than volume I.

Lovers of English songs, and Parry in particular, should be in their element with this satisfying album on Somm.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: John Quinn

Song listing:
1. When comes my Gwen (RW)
2. And yet I love her till I die (RW)
3. Love is a bable (RW)
4. O World, O Life, O Time (SF)
5. When we two parted (SF)
6. Gone were but the winter cold (SF)
7. There be none of Beauty’s daughters (JG)
8. Bright Star! (JG)
9. Proud Maisie (JG)
10. Marian (RW)
11. Dirge in Woods (RW)
12. If thous wouldst ease thine heart (RW)
13. What part of dread eternity (RW)
14. Love and laughter (SF)
15. A Welsh Lullaby (SF)
16. Dream Pedlary (SF)
17. Three Aspects (SF)
18. A Fairy Town (SF)
19. The Witches’ Wood (SF)
20. Whether I live (SF)
21. Armida’s Garden (SF)
22. The Maiden (SF)
23. There (SF)

 




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