Crouch End Festival Chorus
London Mozart Players
William Vann conductor
CHANDOS CHSA 5317
Parry’s Prometheus Unbound has suffered decades of neglect, the only recent performance being in 1980. It now finds a champion in William Vann, whose new recording follows his ground-breaking and excellent ‘Judith’ (2020). For this venture Professor Jeremy Dibble has prepared a new orchestral score and instrumental parts, and he also provides the illuminating and extremely interesting booklet notes. Happily, the vocal score is available from the Internet (IMSLP) and because of the intricacy of the score and text I was pleased to be able to print off a copy to facilitate understanding.
There is a popular view amongst interested historians that the date 1880 is significant in the stream of British music, and, perhaps not quite incidentally, this was the year that ‘Prometheus’ received its first performance. Owing much to the influence of Wagner the score is of what I would think would be unprecedented complexity for that time in the UK, so it is to be expected that the reception was decidedly mixed. Even the critic of the Musical Times reported that ‘in many parts we have detached phrases of real beauty, but these are very few and very far between’ (the ‘bad quarter-of-an-hour syndrome’, I surmise).
However, disobliging the MT’s remark may be, we should perhaps understand that with an involved, somewhat formal, polyphonic musical idiom, and a fanciful text, there is too much to take in and appreciate with a single performance. (Now, of course, we now have the advantage of being able to listen to the music as many times as one would wish.)
The first performance would have been fraught with other difficulties. For instance, the chorus were suppled with hand-written single voice parts, not a vocal score, and were full of mistakes. Anyone who has had any experience of working with choirs will immediately realise what a nightmare this would be, and the rehearsal pianist would most scertainly have had his work cut out.
The huge well-trained chorus sing with control and conviction. Of the soloists the tenor, Mr Butt Philip sings with admirable accuracy and agility, the two sopranos are fine too, but the bass sometimes has difficulty finding the centre of his notes in his sinuous lines.
Finally, much praise must be accorded to Mr Vann who has masterminded this huge undertaking with a fine understanding of the music’s importance and purpose.
The welcome fill-up is the much more familiar Blest Pair of Sirens, where Parry shows an emerging awareness of the benefits of really good tunes.
Review by Geoffrey Atkinson