Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Hubert Parry: Piano Music on CD

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing a new CD of English Piano Music played Simon Callaghan. He included the Sonata in F minor, Op.13 by William Sterndale Bennett, two short pieces by William Thomas Best and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s Shulbrede Tunes. The review will appear in due course on MusicWeb International and I will post a link to this on my ‘blog’.However, I can safely quote one small paragraph from that review. I noted that “over the years I have come to consider that this collection of pieces [Shulbrede] is a valuable addition to the [piano] music of the 20th century…” I felt that in spite of people often holding Parry in low regard (usually without having heard very much of his music) “…the ‘unbiased’ truth is that the Shulbrede Tunes is to Parry as the Wand of Youth Suites are to Elgar: youth and leisure and pleasure reflected on in the relative tranquillity and wisdom of middle age”.

I looked at the Arkiv CD catalogue and was horrified to find that only one other recording of Parry’s piano music is currently available – Peter Jacobs on Priory. He plays Shulbrede Tunes, Hands across the Centuries and the important Theme and Nineteen Variations in D minor. I turned to the list of Piano compositions in Jeremy Dibble’s essential biography of the composer –C. Hubert Parry: His Life and Music [1992] and noted that there were a large number of pieces that have not been recorded. To be fair, many of them appear to be works that are still in manuscript, so I guess that these may never be recorded. However there are a considerable number of published works and these include what is generally regarded as the important pieces:-
Sonnets & Songs without Words Sets 1 & 2 (1867-1875)
Seven Charakterbilder (1872)
Grosses Duo in E minor for Two pianos (1875-77)
Sonata No.1 in F (1873?)
Sonnets & Songs without Words Set 3
Sonata No. 2 in A (1876-77)
Theme and Nineteen Variations (1878)
Shulbrede Tunes (1914)
Five Miniatures (1917?)
In addition, a number of Characteristic Popular Tunes in the British Isles were also published.
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Presently only Shulbrede, Hands across the Centuries and the Theme and Variations is available on one or more recordings. However, in 1994 a CD was made by Anthony Goldstone on the Troy Label. He included the two Sonatas, the Nineteen Variations, the Charakterbilder and an Adagissimo from the Sonnets. Yet there is a problem here. Firstly, the disc is probably no longer available except from the second-hand dealer. But more importantly, Goldstone chose to record these works on Parry’s own grand piano at Shulbrede Priory.
Now, on the face of it that seemed a good idea, but the reality is that this 150-odd year old Hagspiel piano is not really the ideal instrument for a definitive recording of these important works. I find it quite a challenge to enjoy this music, in spite of the fact I know that they are brilliantly played.
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So perhaps the time has come for a new recording of the main corpus of Parry’s piano music? This would have to include the Sonatas as these are important. Lisa Hardy in her seminal book on the British Piano Sonata 1870-1945 has stated that “…Parry’s Second Sonata is the most important example of a British piano sonata to have been written in the nineteenth century, it deserves to be better known.” [p.23]

Having seen a copy of the sheet music for the Sonnet’s and Songs without Words I believe that they would be an interesting addition to the repertoire –especially perhaps the “curiously original and even characteristic little pieces, ‘Owlet’ and ‘Gnome’”. The Grosses Duo owes much to J.S Bach. However, it must never be forgotten that Parry was a great enthusiast of JSB and wrote what was at one time the definitive English language biography of that composer. Fuller-Maitland has suggested that this Duo may even pass for an undiscovered composition by the great man!
Finally I have never heard the Five Miniatures, and neither have I seen the sheet music for them. However, one of the pieces is called ‘Cosy’. Apparently this was published in the Girl’s Own Paper in 1892 – so surely would be worth including as a ‘rarity’.

Let us hope that some pianist is prepared to play these pieces in public performance and perhaps include them in an ‘all Parry’ recital CD. I do understand the costs and difficulties of producing CD’s but it would seem that part of our British Musical Heritage is at stake here. Perhaps if only one work could be recorded it ought to be the Second Sonata? Parry’s piano music is, or has been, available on these CDs:-
The Piano Music Of Hubert Parry Peter Jacobs on Priory 451
Hubert Parry Piano Sonata no. 1 in F; Piano Sonata no.2 in A minor/major; Theme and Nineteen Variations, Charakterbilder (Seven Ages of Mind), Adagissimo. Albany TROY 132 (1994)
English Piano Works (Shulbrede Tunes) Simon Callaghan De Rode Pomp Gents Muzikaal Archief Volume 34 RP/GMA 069/073

1 comment:

Philip Wade said...

I am a free-lance composer, working on an original musical, based on The Pied Piper. During my research, I came across C.H.H. Parry's fine work, The Pied Piper of Hamelin. I have not been able to find a recording of this work, so, I am entering the vocal/piano reduction into Finale. His Pied Piper composition is a fabulous work. I have recently finished a collection of songs based on Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. Samples are at www.bigshoeenterprises.com.

Philip Wade