Manchester Cathedral Choir / Christopher Stokes

Parry: Choral Masterpieces

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The "Big Tune" that is strongly associated with late Romantic music in England may have found its greatest exponent in Edward Elgar, but it had its basis in the music of his predecessors, Charles Villiers Stanford and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. Many of the large-scale works composed in the Victorian and Edwardian eras featured expansive melodies of dignified, uplifting character, and it was largely in the anthems and hymns of Stanford and Parry that the characteristic became notable. Indeed, so recognizable was this common trait in their music that musicians sometimes jokingly referred to "Stanford (hyphen) Parry," as if speaking of one composer. But if there has been any confusion over who's who, Naxos has kindly distinguished them in several worthy recordings of their works, and this 2009 release of Parry's choral music reveals many pieces with sumptuous melodies and rich harmonies to rival anything by the composer with whom he is often linked. The Songs of Farewell is a cycle of six a cappella choral settings of sacred poems by Henry Vaughan, John Davies, Thomas Campion, John Gibson Lockhart, and John Donne, though it was not specifically designed for liturgical use, but rather as a personal testament. To be sure, Parry's gorgeous music almost makes these motets too ravishing for church use. The anthems "I was glad when they said unto me" and "Hear my words, ye people" are classic Parry with their grand, slowly unwinding themes, and even the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis of the Great Service are memorable for their stirring melodies. But no work on this program is as celebrated as Jerusalem, a beloved setting of poetry by William Blake that defines the "Big Tune" for all practical purposes and stands as the unofficial national anthem for England. The performances on this album by baritone Mark Rowlinson, organist Jeffrey Makinson, and the Manchester Cathedral Choir, directed by Christopher Stokes, are impressive in their nobility and warmth, and Naxos' recording in Manchester Cathedral is appealing for its clarity and resonance.

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