With only three weeks to go before the end of the BBC Proms, time is ripe to get into good voice for the Last Night’s lusty Jerusalem and, thanks to this disc from the Westminster Abbey Choir, to recall that Parry wrote other things as well. He originally set William Blake’s verses in 1916 as an anthem for Fight for Right, a movement dedicated to countering German wartime propaganda and to boosting morale for an Allied victory. A year later, Jerusalem was adopted as a rallying cry by the suffragettes, and it was taken up by the Women’s Institute in 1924.
Only during the early Thirties does it seem to have appeared at the Proms, but its place as part of the Last Night ritual was consolidated during the years after the Second World War. Nowadays, it would be a brave controller who ditched it, and the Westminster Abbey Choir, accompanied by Daniel Cook on the abbey’s magnificent Harrison & Harrison organ, shows exactly why the music, even a century after its composition, continues to excite fervour.
Yet the work that truly sends shivers up and down the spine in this programme is the anthem I Was Glad, written for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 and sung at every coronation since. It is not merely the grandeur of the piece that is so impressive but also the fact that Parry’s choral part-writing and his glorious shifts of harmony create such a stirring, vibrant, awesome majesty of sound, enhanced here by both organ and Onyx Brass. Parry clearly knew the abbey’s acoustics, too, and the way that the words and music fill the resonant architectural expanses while, under James O’Donnell’s knowledgeable direction, remaining sharply focused is another thrilling facet of this performance.
There are similar regal associations with the 1911 setting of the Te Deum, written for the coronation of George V and here once again revealing Parry’s command of a text demanding varied musical responses across a whole spectrum from jubilant outburst to sublime reflection. Likewise, the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis from the Evening Service of 1881 show fluency and acuteness in choices of choral texture and timbre. Together with Blest Pair of Sirens, Hear my Words and the familiar hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, not to mention the dynamic organ Fantasia and Fugue in G major, this is a true Parry panoply.