Parry Twelve Sets of English Lyrics, Vol. 3
Sarah Fox (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), Andrew West (piano)
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 272 58:46 mins
Parry is widely loved for several choral pieces and the mass song Jerusalem. Something of their noble quality – innate to the man himself – can be heard in these songs, although ‘My heart is like a singing bird’ with which this album opens does little to dispel the impression of Parry as a worthy but rather conventional late-Victorian gentleman. The ones that follow, however, are of increasing interest. With track five we reach a genuine masterpiece: ‘The sound of hidden music’, sung with winsome ingenuousness by soprano Sarah Fox, was apparently Parry’s very last song, and could easily pass for one of Elgar’s more confiding, open-hearted flights of inspired lyricism.
In fine contrast, there is ‘Nightfall in Winter’, in which Parry deftly suggests through his piano accompaniment, sensitively played by Andrew West, the lengthening shadows and encroaching chill of eventide at that season. Such is the song’s well-modulated narrative, conveyed with sentient understatement by baritone Roderick Williams, that one is simply engrossed through its nearly five-minute duration. These perceptive performances by both singers and their pianist recover even the sense and sensibility of those songs which seem distant from our time. ‘The Faithful Lover’ could easily sound staid and conventional to modern ears; but Parry – as Williams clearly understands – saw Alfred Perceval Graves’s poem as the eloquent expression of an honourable lover, rather than an opportunity for an emotional outpouring à la Tchaikovsky. Hearing this brings us closer to understanding the essential decency of the man beloved by his pupils, including Holst and Vaughan Williams, and whose influence extended well beyond the mere issue of musical style.