I was somewhat surprised to see this issue pop up in the mail. Released in 1992, this is the purported world premiere recording of the first of Parry’s four symphonies. William Boughton was making quite a stir in the early nineties on the Nimbus label with some superb recordings of long-neglected English works, and I can only assume that someone has decided to pick up distribution again for the label and is deciding to reissue some of its seminal early releases.
One of the criticisms of Nimbus in general was the high level of reverberation and ambiance that was part and parcel of its recording approach. [This was not due to the Ambisonic process, but to their micing the musicians from a greater distance away than most recordings. I have found that using ProLogic II or even just a small rear speaker or two hooked to the plus & minus terminals of a stereo amp can ameliorate the ambiance problem and provide often excellent surround sound..Ed.]. For some pieces it works spectacularly, for others not as much. In this issue all is well, and we get a fine sonic presentation of a piece that gave the composer fits, from its initial conception in 1868 to the abandonment of its first performance in 1882 under a ragged and undisciplined orchestra led by the renowned Hans Richter, who could offer only one rehearsal and failed to make a go of it. But Parry’s friends came to his aid, and with their efforts the work was rescheduled for later that same year, and Parry conducted to great applause. Two composers, Schumann (whom Parry idolized) and Wagner (whose innovative harmonies underlie this symphony) serve as the guiding lights, and Parry produced one of the most striking first symphonic efforts of the time.
There have been other recordings since this one of course, the least not being that of Matthias Bamert and the London Philharmonic on a complete Chandos set that some rank as definitive. I am not going to nix that assessment, as Bamert’s efforts deserve their accolades. But there is also much to be said in this groundbreaking recording by Boughton, and anyone who likens to the English turn of the century school would do well to acquire it.
Especially with the interesting coupling, From Death to Life, a late tone poem emerging from the Brighton Festival in 1914 that reflected the composer’s views on the impending disaster of the war. It is a profoundly serious work that ends in a spiritual triumph, and shares much with the Forth Symphony. Though the work is introspective in nature, its presentation between Vaughan Williams’s Wasps Overture and Elgar’s Second Symphony consigned it to oblivion when the audience failed to appreciate it, looking as they were for some sort of uplifting, moral boost. The composer never heard it again, and this recording brings it to life again for the first time since 1915.
So here we have two unpublished (at least as of 1992) pieces that were resurrected by Boughton and his hand picked band in excellent sound. Anglophiles will have to have this, and others will find their horizons enlarged by the experience.
— Steven Ritter