5th May 2018

The Glories of Parry and Stanford

Cirencester Parish Church Saturday 5th May 2018

This review by Julian Elloway, Professional Church Musician and Accompanist

Cirencester Choral Society’s concert on 5 May in Cirencester parish church celebrated the centenary of Hubert Parry’s death. In a well-conceived programme, music by Parry himself followed that of Charles Villiers Stanford – two composers who, along with Edward Elgar, triggered the so-called ‘English musical renaissance’ around 1900.

Stanford’s C major Te Deum opened, showing this choir’s many strengths, not least the sonorous basses. Like several pieces in the concert, it comprises short sections (following the words of psalms or canticles), but they had such skilful changes of tempo and sense of musical direction that there was never the disjointedness that can occur in lesser hands. Directed by Carleton Etherington, the choir’s musical shaping of each phrase gave much pleasure.

The music included pieces written during the First World War, with two of Parry’s elegiac ‘Songs of Farewell’ contrasting with Stanford’s assertive ‘For lo, I raise up’ that received a performance of great drama – especially from a strong alto section. Parry’s ‘I was glad’ evoked pomp and pageantry to start the second half. The same composer’s ‘Crossing the bar’ received an intense performance; Stanford’s ‘O for a closer walk with God’ had notable word painting. The organ solos were an integral part of the programme, featuring each composer. David Whitehead played with consummate musicality and assurance, particularly enjoyable in Stanford’s ‘Intermezzo on Irish Airs’, demonstrating charm and poise, and an exciting performance of the same composer’s D minor Postlude.

There were also major Victorian works from the 1880s, such as Stanford’s ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ (described by Stanford’s pupil, Herbert Howells, as ‘one of the supremely lovely anthems of all our history’) and Parry’s ‘Blest pair of Sirens’ that brought the concert to a thrilling conclusion and with the choir still sounding fresh after so much singing.