However, although these influences are clear from the one-movement form and the emphasis on thematic transformation, the internal organization is highly original. The opening, marked Allegro quasi maestoso, introduces a long, registrally expansive theme which provides the basic material for the rest of the work. This broad melody is then reiterated in a more tranquil mood for the second group in A flat, but is soon curtailed by a move to the dominant of F minor in preparation for the development. Yet instead of being tonally exploratory, the development is firmly orientated around F minor, and by its significant increase in tempo (Più moto), represents a type of self-contained, illusory Scherzo movement. A recapitulation of the opening ideas is interrupted by a slow movement in E minor. This is perhaps the most inspired section of the work, both in its highly imaginative use of sonata form and in the way the brooding nature of the first subject (derived from the opening theme) contrasts with the almost ethereal lyricism of the second. Also impressive is the central climax, deeply moving with its powerful sequence of suspensions, and sounding peculiarly Elgarian though predating that composer by well over a decade. Finally, a second, fuller recapitulation brings the work to a conclusion, incorporating in true Lisztian fashion a memory of the slow movement just before the coda.
It is evident from Parry’s diaries that the Fantasie Sonata was composed at great speed in a mere eleven days, during a period when Parry was able to work without distraction. He had by now given up working at Lloyd’s (since 1877) and was therefore able to devote most of his time to composition. He frequently visited Dannreuther who expressed his approval of the Sonata, particularly the slow movement. After a number of revisions it was performed at Orme Square (with Dannreuther and Holmes) on 30 January 1879. This was to be its only public hearing. After playing through the Sonata privately with Joachim on 25 March, Parry shelved it and the work has remained unpublished. It is not clear whether this was the result of personal dissatisfaction, or of adverse criticism from some performers whose scathing remarks Parry all too often took to heart. One entry of 23 March 1879 relates how one violinist, Straus, did not like either the Fantasie or the String Quartet because ‘there [were] not enough cadences in them, and too many keys!!’ In these early years of creativity, Parry often had to come to terms with disappointment. In the Fantasie Sonata Parry had, rather adventurously for his time, combined Brahmsian homogeneity with the progressive formal ideas of Liszt—both composers were still considered modern in the eyes of an English musical pedagogy which still idolized Mendelssohn as the epitome of compositional excellence. Furthermore, cyclic chamber works were still an uncommon phenomenon on the European mainland; Parry’s Sonata challenges the well-established chronology of cyclic forms in that it occurs some years before such works became fashionable (as in the works of Franck, Dukas, d’Indy, Fauré and Saint-Saëns). Seen in this perspective, it is perhaps not surprising that the work’s reception was so cool.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1991