Parry: Nonet

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 On Sunday afternoon (somewhat the worse for wear after driving 400+ miles to Bradford and back for a quintet gig and a curry – thanks, Jo T – but that’s another story) I joined some friends for a play-through of the Nonet in B flat by Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918).  Not sure whose idea this was, or who had the music;  it’s scored for a slightly unusual wind combination of flute, oboe, cor anglais, two clarinets, two bassoons and two horns.  (Why?)

First impression was of an effective, well-written, energetic and colourful work, often in Parry’s vein of heroic maestoso familiar from Jerusalem, I Was Glad and Blest Pair of Sirens, but not descending into bombast, over-long in places but interestingly put together, with cyclic use of themes (the Scherzo has the same tune as the first movement, the last movement recycles themes from all the previous ones).  He’d been listening to Wagner, too – one ‘Tarnhelm’ chord shift straight out of Rheingold…

I didn’t know the piece, and didn’t have a chance to look at the blurb in the score, so can’t tell you much about it.  The most obvious influence seemed to be Richard Strauss – the most directly comparable work (in the same key) being Strauss’s early Suite in B flat, Op. 4;   but – and this is the most surprising fact about the Parry – this can’t have been an influence, as the Parry dates from 1877, seven years before the Strauss.  (Could the 20-year-old Strauss have heard the Parry?  No.  Although Parry was 29 when he wrote it, he was pretty well still unknown at the time, certainly outside England — and the Nonet was never performed in his lifetime.)

There’s a recording of the piece on Hyperion.  If I can track it down perhaps it will tell me more.  An interesting find.

We also struggled through another piece for the same combination (why?) by Joseph Horovitz (b. 1926), a Fantasia on a Theme of Couperin.  I was surprised to discover, emerging from the rather undifferentiated murk, the theme of Couperin’s tremendous B minor Passacaille – my favourite piece by Couperin, and the only one I can play from memory (well, only 8 bars of it – but 8 of the greatest bars in all music!).  I concluded that I probably prefer my Couperin straight, but there may be more to the piece than we discovered.  It seemed to be, er, reluctant to yield up its secrets.

Anyway, a fascinating afternoon.  Many thanks to Celia for the invitation, not to mention your lovely house and your amazing apple-cake!

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2 Comments on “Parry: Nonet”

  1. jonathanburton Says:

    My brother Tony says:

    I’ve got the Hyperion recording, if you want to borrow it. (As long it hasn’t started turning golden and falling apart.) And you do realise we’re related to Parry’s most recent biographer, don’t you? Claire is married to Jeremy Dibble’s brother.

    A

    [Claire is our half-niece — Humphrey’s eldest daughter]

  2. jonathanburton Says:

    I’ ve now listened to Tony’s CD, and the piece is even more Straussian than I thought. Extraordinary.

    (So is the Stanford Nonet on the same disc — keeps nearly turning into Till Eulenspiegel.)


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