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(25 November – 8 December)
This is one of the freshest, most inspiring performances I have heard of this symphony - or any others recently, for that matter. It is light and spirited; the tempo and momentum of each movement feels "just right". Gorgeous, seamless wind playing, and of course the superb LSO string sound. I always appreciated the Eroica as a great piece, but this recording lifts the music right off the page. Beautiful and stunning. (And all this in a "live" recording!) Highly recommended.
Shortly before acquiring this album several months ago, I bought another CD of Gloria Coates' music (which is not available on ClassicsOnline), and the coincidence was a very fortuitous one. Listeners to this album will discover from Kyle Gann's extensive programme note that the Lyric Suite draws the titles of its movements from poems of Emily Dickinson. What they may not discover is that this connection runs far deeper than the titles. In fact, all of the musical material for the Lyric Suite is drawn from the Fifteeen Songs of Emily Dickinson that Coates composed over a period of thirty-three years.
These songs have produced melodic material for other works by Coates, but in the Lyric Suite they are deployed particularly effective. While the quarter-tone tuning between the strings helps to produce a wistful, keening sound, the tone of the suite comes much more from the melodies and the manners in which they are stated. Listeners may note from the movement titles the idea of the Suite representing the passage of a day, but the poems Coates referred to have much grander themes of life, death and faith, and these are the themes to which the work truly appeals.
The first time I set out to write about this music I got bogged down in linking each instance of a theme to the poem it embodies. Here, I'll just leave a few of the most prominent to listen out for.
Bells in Steeples:
"A death blow is a life blow to some,
Who till they died, did not alive become..."
An Amethyst Remembrance and Split the Lark
"Mine by the right of the White Election!
Mine by the Royal Seal!
Mine by the sign in the scarlet prison
Bars cannot conceal!..."
Noon and Evening
"Now I lay thee down to sleep,
I pray the Lord thy dust to keep,
and if thou live before thou wake,
I pray the Lord thy soul to make"
A wind with fingers
"They dropped like flakes,
They dropped like stars,
Like petals from a rose,
When suddenly across the June,
A wind with fingers blows..."
Parry's instrumental music was not performed frequently even in his lifetime, and much of it became undeservedly obscure after his death. Pilloried by Shaw for his oratorios Judith and Job, as well as for allegedly stifling the early career of Elgar, Parry got the rough end of critical judgement. It was of no account that Elgar vehemently denied the slur at the time and in print.
Parry's late harmonic language is familiar from Jerusalem, but it is fascinating to see how he could sustain his thinking at symphonic length. The last work "1912" is in a sense post-Elgar, and has some of the elegial qualities that we think of as Elgarian. However, there are traces of this earlier, before Elgar himself had written a symphonic note. These earlier symphonies are never less than well-constructed; the occasional apparent flavour of Bruckner or Sibelius actually not derivative from either. All of these works could have become standard repertoire given more successful promotion at the time, and are worth repeated hearing now. The Elegy for Brahms, not performed in Parry's lifetime, is a particularly moving late work, available in a separate collection by the same forces.
Performances are astonishingly good, considering that they had to be worked up from zero. Bamert directs them idiomatically, with a keen sense of structure; the LPO play with conviction, by turns swaggering and wistful, as required.
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