Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.
Hyperion offers both CDs, and downloads in a number of formats. The site is also available in several languages.
Please use the dropdown buttons to set your preferred options, or use the checkbox to accept the defaults.
Stanford’s eight-part Latin Magnificat was posthumously dedicated to Parry, whose own Songs of farewell are unmistakably valedictory in mood. Personal as well as musical associations run deep in this poignantly expressive programme from Westminster Abbey Choir.
On 7 October 1918, just four weeks before Armistice, the unhappy news of the death of Hubert Parry was announced. For years he and Stanford had enjoyed a close friendship, but in recent times their relationship had become fractious. Early in 1917 a serious rift occurred which Stanford bitterly regretted. Owing in part to his wife, who played the role of intermediary, the friendship was revived but scars inevitably remained. As a symbol of his affection (and remorse) Stanford composed his Latin Magnificat for eight-part chorus in B flat, Op 164, which was completed in September 1918. Unfortunately Parry died before the work was published the following year. As an indication of the composer’s regret, the piece bore the following Latin inscription, here translated into English: ‘This work, which death prevented me from giving Charles Hubert Hastings Parry in life, I dedicate to his name in grief. C.V.S.’ Although Stanford adopted traditional elements of motet style such as imitation and antiphony, the espousal of sixteenth-century techniques was but one feature of the work, for the composer also paid tribute to the florid intricacy and counterpoint of Bach whose motets he knew intimately as the one-time conductor of The Bach Choir. One thinks particularly of the effusive eight-part Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (which Stanford conducted numerous times), but one cannot help also drawing a parallel with Bach’s own Magnificat whose vigorous opening and closing music seems to resonate in the corresponding pages of Stanford’s work, and to which Parry, a self-confessed devotee, had also paid homage in his own Bachian setting of 1897. Stanford’s remarkable setting is, like much of his service music and anthems, symphonic in scope, but here the treatment of the text is much more expansive and not confined by the usual constraints of the Anglican liturgy. One is immediately aware of this in the substantial tripartite opening section and in the four contrasting sections that follow in E flat (‘Quia fecit mihi magna’), C minor (‘Fecit potentiam’), and D flat (‘Esurientes implevit bonis’) before B flat is restored with the final section of text (‘Suscepit Israel’) in a splendid gathering of momentum from an initial pastoral mood to a buoyant, climactic ‘alla breve’. And to reinforce this return to the tonic Stanford recalls the opening material in a more truncated form, using the text of the doxology. The concluding ‘Amen’, furthermore, is one of the composer’s most thrilling in its sudden epigrammatic divergence to G flat directly before the spacious final cadence.
Alan Gray, Stanford’s successor as organist of Trinity College, Cambridge, was a lawyer by training, but chose to pursue music after his studies with Edwin G Monk in York. As an undergraduate at Trinity College, Gray became known to Stanford, and gave occasional organ recitals there. After a period as director of music at Wellington College, he took up his appointment as organist of Trinity in January 1893—a position he held until 1930. Gray inherited a decline in the fortunes of the Trinity choir. In 1896 the choir school was abolished, and the boys were thence educated at the local Perse Grammar School in Cambridge. With less control over the interaction of their education, he found it difficult to organize rehearsals and voice-training to the same extent that Stanford had enjoyed. Much of Gray’s church music has suffered neglect. The First World War affected him deeply and he lost two of his three sons late in the conflict, their memory commemorated in his best-known anthem What are these that glow from afar?. His settings of Rupert Brooke, in his cycle of partsongs entitled 1914, are also very moving, as is the orchestral Elegy of 1915, played in memory of W C Denis Browne who died in the Dardanelles. His most enduring work for the Anglican liturgy is his a cappella Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in F minor for double choir, which was published in 1912. Evincing some robust handling of well-established double-choir techniques—eight-part counterpoint, antiphony, imitation—there are also some attractive Romantic touches in Gray’s adaptation of sonata form, notably the ‘genuflection’ (‘holy is his name’) in E flat which prepares the way for the second subject in A flat (‘And his mercy is on them that fear him’). This material later returns in F major (‘As he promised to our forefathers’) before the Gloria establishes the darker hue of F minor. The more penitential Nunc dimittis sets out more prayerfully in F minor, but its optimistic message (‘to be a light to lighten the Gentiles’) drives the music forward to A flat major before the Gloria, somewhat modified, once again brings the movement to its more familiar F minor conclusion.
A one-time pupil of Stanford, Charles Wood was also a colleague to both Stanford and Gray at Cambridge, where he directed chapel music at Gonville and Caius College. A fastidious student of counterpoint, modal harmony and old melody, he took a great interest in the development of A H Mann’s choir at King’s College for which he produced several significant pieces for double choir such as Hail, gladdening Light and the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in F ‘Collegium Regale’. He was also fascinated by R R Terry’s new choir at the new Roman Catholic cathedral in Westminster, which was hungry for new liturgical commissions. Wood produced no fewer than three settings of the Nunc dimittis in Latin, two of which, scored for SSATBB, were for Westminster. The first of these, in B flat major, is dated 25 March 1916 and was first sung at Compline in the cathedral on Saturday 7 September that same year. It, along with its A minor counterpart, was not published until 1927, a year after Wood’s death. Although the demeanour of the voices betrays more antique influences (which include the plainsong of the Gloria), the harmony is strikingly inventive in its treatment of dissonance, not least in the luminous central section, in D flat (‘lumen ad revelationem gentium’).
Hubert Parry began to conceive his six motets, now known as the Songs of farewell, in 1913, but much of their composition took place in 1914 and 1915. As an agnostic, and an individual who intensely disliked church ritual and doctrine, Parry did not initially consider the motets to be liturgical in character or function (though later he did concede that their most suitable environment was a cathedral or large sacred space), nor did he intend them to be considered as some form of Christian affirmation of faith at the end of his life. Nevertheless, Herbert Howells, who knew him well in the composer’s last years, maintained that valediction was on Parry’s mind. According to Howells, Parry declared to him that he would not live beyond seventy; nor did he, for after an illness of septicaemia in September 1918, he died from the effects of influenza on 7 October, only a month before Armistice.
The first motet, My soul, there is a country, using words by Henry Vaughan, is perhaps the best-known, partly because of its length but also because of its more accessible four-part scoring. Through-composed, like the majority of the motets, it reveals some of Parry’s most florid polyphony and gift for melody. This is perhaps most readily exhibited in the last, highly contrapuntal section in which sequences of rising-fourth intervals (‘Thy God, thy life, thy cure’) interact with the avowal of an unchanging, loving Creator (‘But One who never changes’)—a musical statement that is distilled magnificently in the final set of chordal progressions. I know my soul hath power to know all things, by the much neglected Sir John Davies, is a solemn contemplation on humility, its climax occurring at the very end when Parry suddenly breaks away to a distant tonality—a gesture which accentuates the heart of the poem: ‘I know myself a Man, / Which is a proud and yet a wretched thing.’
Parry’s setting of Thomas Campion’s Never weather-beaten sail is, by contrast, stanzaic in structure. In five parts, the motet has a richer contrapuntal texture, which is particularly perceptible in the yearning refrain: ‘O come quickly, sweetest Lord’—one that Parry skilfully transforms in the second verse. The six-part There is an old belief is a setting of a poem by John Gibson Lockhart. At the heart of the motet Parry quotes the intonation of the Christian creed (‘That creed I fain would keep’) in the hope that, with the eternal sleep to come, the soul might waken to a new, serene life ‘on some solemn shore’. At this point Parry’s use of dissonance reaches an intensity and passion thitherto unequalled in English choral music, while the hushed ending expresses a rare sublimity.
For his penultimate motet Parry turned to John Donne’s sonnet At the round earth’s imagined corners. Cast in seven parts, Parry reached the heights of his harmonic experimentation in the ethereal paragraph beginning with the higher voices—‘and you whose eyes / Shall behold God and never taste death’s woe’—a passage that seems almost atonal in its contrapuntal wanderings. This is ultimately stabilized by the magical entry of the tenors and basses (‘But let them sleep’), and the motet concludes with some of the composer’s most luxuriant polyphony, replete with the visionary benediction: ‘As if thoud’st sealed my pardon with thy blood.’
The final motet, Lord, let me know mine end, a setting of Psalm 39, was written for double choir and is both the emotional and musical summation of the motet cycle. It is also surely the most moving and personal declaration. Though the motet carries a strong Judaeo-Christian message, for Parry the text captured something of his more heterodoxical approach to religion and ethics. After the violence of the central section (‘Take thy plague away from me’), the last part of this magnificent choral canvas combines a sense of lament with one of profound penitence. But more than this, Parry’s apologia is encapsulated by the yearning cry: ‘For I am a stranger with thee and a sojourner’—an assertion that summed up his extraordinary creative life as a deep thinker as well as a composer.
The first five motets were first performed at the Royal College of Music under the baton of Hugh Allen on 22 May 1916. A performance of Lord, let me know mine end was first given in the chapel of New College, Oxford, again under Allen on 17 June 1917. But the motets were not heard together as a full set until 23 February 1919, when they were sung (under Allen’s direction) by the combined choirs of New College and Christ Church at Parry’s Memorial Concert at Exeter College, where he had been an undergraduate. It was a fitting tribute to one of Oxford’s greatest musical sons.
Jeremy Dibble © 2020