Indebted to the grand Romantic tradition of the late nineteenth century, Parry’s colourful and exuberant concerto probably lays claim to be the first British piece written in such a style worthy of comparison with contemporary continental models. It is a virtuoso work, extrovertly conceived for the piano and undoubtedly written with the brilliant technical proficiency of Dannreuther in mind. Stylistically it also reflects the first phase of Parry’s maturity (framed by the Großes Duo of 1876 and the First Symphony of 1882), a fertile and energetic period of composition full of melodic invention, harmonic imagination, bold ideas, forceful modulations and structural experimentation. This is certainly true of the first movement with its extraordinary destabilizing shift to G major early on in the piece, and, at the end of the development, the equally remarkable false reprise in D major (which links up neatly with the second-group tonality of D major in the exposition). Such an unorthodox, not to say radical matrix of tonalities, may well have been gleaned from the slow movement of Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata, Op 106, a work which Parry had studied at length under Dannreuther’s guidance. The subtly through-composed structure of the slow movement, which contrasts the gentle lyricism of the opening oboe solo with the brooding spaciousness of the piano, is also highly original and may well find its roots in the long melodic paragraphs of Liszt’s E flat Concerto. This movement is unquestionably the emotional core of the work and is one of Parry’s most deftly organized instrumental essays, anticipating the intricate formal involution of the Elegy for Brahms (1897) and the slow movements of the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. The humorous finale of the Concerto is noteworthy for its jaunty main theme which continues to begin tangentially in the ‘wrong’ key (in D major!) before reverting to F sharp. This gives rise to a series of arresting ‘interrupted’ cadences throughout the movement; two of them, at the beginning of the recapitulation and at the end of the cadenza, are particularly dramatic in their impact. Thematically too the Concerto is richly endowed with strong ideas, notably the secondary material of the first movement and the long self-developing central melody of the slow movement. All this and the taxing ‘cyclic’ cadenza in the last movement, in which Parry incorporates both of the ideas of the first movement, make for a fascinating, exciting and historically important work which deserves greater exposure and recognition.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1995