Gray • Parry • Standford • Wood
Stanford: Three Latin Motets; Magnificat in B flat; Parry: Songs of Farewell; Gray: Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis in F minor
George Purves (treble); Westminster Abbey Choir/James O’Donnell
Hyperion CDA68301 64:03 mins
The masterpiece here is Parry’s Songs of Farewell, the set of six motets he began in 1906 and completed during World War I. This opens with ‘My Soul, there is a country’, whose dance-like four-part polyphony seems to take flight before arriving with a perfect sense of timing at its assured punchline. Although deceptively easy to sing, it needs every singer to be able to listen and balance with their colleagues. Alas, it is at this point that Westminster Abbey Choir crashes the jump.
Under James O’Donnell the Abbey Choir made a very fine album of Elgar motets and anthems some 13 years ago, albeit with a choir of 19 choristers balanced by 19 Lay Vicars. The present recording fields 21 choristers, scarcely balanced by 12 Lay Vicars. Against such odds and faced with rather over-enthusiastic trebles at forte, the poor gentlemen often sound more like a backing group rather than equal partners. In any case, the choir’s rather strident singing style, developed to cope with the Abbey’s ample acoustic, may make it seem less ideal for Parry’s intimate style.
Still, much of the programme survives, though Alan Gray’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis might have benefitted from a more loving treatment. Of the Parry, the choir fares best in the bigger scaled motets such as ‘At the round earth’s imagined corners’. The final ‘Lord, let me know mine end’ is almost sublime – only spoilt at the last page by a hard-edged forte which bursts its rapt atmosphere.