Only a few months ago I gave a warm welcome to the Leonore Piano Trio’s recordings of Parry’s First and Third piano trios. I’m delighted to find that, with this release, they have completed the set so soon.
The First trio dates from 1877 and the Third came along in 1890. Parry’s second foray into the genre is the longest of the three. In terms of the work’s chronological placement in the composer’s oeuvre, it came after his unpublished First Symphony in G minor (1880-82). It also followed two large choral/orchestral works, both written for Gloucester Three Choirs Festivals and which, though largely forgotten nowadays, helped to forge Parry’s reputation: Scenes from Shelley’s ‘Prometheus Unbound’ (1880) and The Glories of Our Blood and State (1883). The work which was to cement Parry’s reputation, Blest Pair of Sirens (1887) lay not too far in the future. In addition to the burgeoning of his compositional reputation, Jeremy Dibble reminds us in his booklet essay, that Parry had been appointed Professor of Musical History at the new Royal College of Music in 1883. All this is worthy of mention because it goes a long way to explain the confidence that’s readily apparent in the B minor Piano Trio.
Before considering the individual works, one general comment I’d make is that both show the (wholly beneficial) influence of Brahms. This is an influence that is often remarked upon when considering Parry’s music but it’s particularly unsurprising in the case of these scores. That’s because both were given their first performances at the frequent chamber music concerts that Parry’s early mentor, Edward Dannreuther promoted at his London home. Indeed, Dannreuther did far more than promote the concerts: an accomplished pianist, he frequently took part in the programmes and Jeremy Dibble mentions in his notes that Dannreuther was the pianist in the premieres of both of these Parry works. Dibble also points out that Brahms’ chamber music frequently appeared in these concerts, so Parry would have had plenty of exposure to the German master’s works.
The Piano Trio is cast in four movements. The first opens with a Maestoso introduction. This is melancholic in tone and includes what is in effect a motto theme that serves as a thematic wellspring for the entire work. The main body of the movement, Allegro con fuoco (0:54) is frequently fiery and passionate, though there are poetic stretches too. Above all, though, it’s the strength of the music and the melodic invention that leave the firmest impression. There’s a lot of restless energy, which serves the music well, until a tranquil close is achieved. The writing for each instrument is very assured, as is the interplay between them. Next comes a Lento. This is founded on a sumptuous, extended melody which is first heard on the cello (0:45). The violin soon starts to provide a wonderful counterpoint. This theme provides a rich thematic seam, which is thoroughly mined by both string instruments—during this movement the piano acts largely as the provider of accompaniment. At 5:40 what I take to be the recapitulation—I can’t be sure without a score—arrives, with the violin taking the lead, and the moment of transition is enhanced significantly by a lovely key change.
There follows a very spirited Scherzo, which is here played with great animation. This is an engaging movement and I enjoyed also the lyrical trio. The finale opens with a Maestoso introduction which refers to the motto theme. The main Allegro con moto (from 1:24) is a rondo, the theme of which is sufficiently resourceful to produce a well-varied musical argument. This is an inventive movement and at 8:24 the music breaks into B major for the work’s confident, sunny coda. This Piano Trio is a highly impressive composition and it’s marvellously played by the Leonore Trio.
They’re joined by violist Rachel Roberts for the Piano Quartet. Jeremy Dibble asserts that the work represents ‘a high-water mark in what was the first phase of Parry’s maturity as a composer.’ Again, there are four movements. The substantial first movement opens with an introduction marked Lento ma non troppo. Dibble describes this as ‘shadowy’. It’s also expansive in scale; not until 1:57 is the Allegro molto reached. This has something of a proud, martial flavour to it. The music is very confident and I was struck particularly by the big-boned piano part. Is it coincidental, I wonder, that immediately before he began working on the Quartet Parry had been sketching a piano concerto? This strongly-profiled movement ends affectingly with a reminiscence of the slow introduction.
Jeremy Dibble describes the Scherzo as ‘Mephistophelian’. The scherzo material itself has furious energy—as the players here amply demonstrate. The trio (1:45) offers welcome contrast; it is gentle and waltz-like. The Andante is placed third. This is very serious and lyrically beautiful, rising to a couple of ardent climaxes. These climaxes are full of passion, and in saying that I’m referring both to work and performance. The vigorous and dynamic finale is all hustle and bustle at first, though at 1:33 a contrapuntal cantabile second group, dominated by the strings, acts as an admirable foil. The development section is very confidently handled and the coda produces compositional fireworks, with Parry weaving in material from the first two movements. This Quartet, like its companion work on the disc, is an impressive piece, which I enjoyed very much.
I admired the Leonore Trio’s first Parry CD very much and this follow-up release is just as good. In saying that I’m referring both to the interest, accomplishment and value in the music itself and also to the excellent performances. Parry’s music could not be in better hands. The recordings themselves come from the same source as the first disc and the sound quality is excellent. As ever, Jeremy Dibble’s notes provide a thorough and reliable introduction to the music.