Songs of Farewell
‘Scratch a French composer and underneath you’ll find Massenet; scratch an English composer and you’ll find Parry.’ Parry’s choral masterpieces, the six Songs of Farewell, composed between 1913 and 1915, represent a magnificent summation of his work as an English choral composer whose influence on several generations of native composers thereafter was immense. And this ravishing performance by Tenebrae, in the context of works by Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Harris and Howells, only serves to accentuate how deeply that influence was assimilated. In terms of sound and sensibility, I can think only of the recording made by Richard Marlow and the choir of Trinity College (Conifer, 9/87 – sadly nla), that rivals it.
Short gives wonderful shape to the well-known ‘My soul there is a country’ and extracts that essential longing from ‘I know my soul hath power’ (often the most ignored of the set), an emotion which is also abundant in the yearning refrain of ‘Never weather-beaten sail’, whose contrapuntal detail benefits from the moderate tempo. Even more imposing are the last three motets. The ethereal close of ‘There is an old belief’ is splendidly controlled dynamically, while the dramatic contrasts of Donne’s ‘At the round earth’s imagined corners’ are vividly recreated. Most impressive, however, is the fluidity of the double-choir motet, ‘Lord, let me know mine end’, the textural clarity and emotional intensity of that fairly summarises the complexity of the composer’s heterodoxy. There are also lovely performances of Harris’s Bring us, O Lord God and Howells’s Take him, earth, for cherishing, and a rare recording of Vaughan Williams’s Rest, all heirs to the tradition of Parry’s art.