PARRY String Quartets Nos 1-3. Scherzo (Archaeus Quartet)
Parry made no secret of his musical lineage. ‘Zweite Quartette C dur’, wrote the 20-year-old composer on the score of his Second Quartet (he was living in Gloucestershire at the time). ‘One is reminded of the same rhythmic dynamism heard in Mendelssohn’s Quartet in F minor, Op 80’, writes Jeremy Dibble, in the booklet notes, of Parry’s First Quartet of 1867. I wouldn’t go quite that far. Rather, it’s like one of those miniature steam locomotives that engineering apprentices produced in the 19th century: a polished, fully operational scale model of a Mendelssohn quartet, made with craft and considerable charm.
There are worse models for an aspiring composer; but one of the most satisfying aspects of this first recording of the complete Parry quartet cycle is hearing the young composer outgrowing his influences. The Second Quartet, written in 1868, is on a larger scale and sparkles with sunlight: Dibble believes it carries the imprint of Parry’s burgeoning passion for his future wife Maude.
Leap forwards a decade to the Third (1878) and Parry’s vision has expanded again. This is a substantial, assured and surprisingly troubled work that struggles to assert G major optimism against ever-lengthening shadows: there’s more than a touch of Nibelheim in what Parry called its ‘death’s head scherzo’. This is the only work in this collection to have been recorded before; the Archaeus Quartet also include an undated, unpublished scherzo, completed by Dibble for this recording.
So there it is, and if you’re a Parry aficionado or an explorer of rare 19th-century chamber music, you’ll probably already have decided to add this to your collection. The Archaeus Quartet play each of these works with energy and conviction. They’re not the glossiest-sounding of ensembles, and there are a couple of moments where their intonation slightly misses its mark. Parry’s slow movements, in particular, might have benefited from being allowed to blossom a little more freely. But the sound is transparent and natural, and these players certainly catch the music’s drama: the flashes of vibrato-free harshness in the Third Quartet’s scherzo are suitably chilling. In Parry’s anniversary year, it fills a gap in the recorded repertoire very handsomely.