Richard Deering piano


Here is only the second recording of Parry’s two Piano Sonatas from 1876.

The First Sonata is an immediate delight; straightforwardly winsome, and blithely tuneful. While it would be easy to play ‘Spot the Influence’, it is astonishing how recognisably Parry-esque the music is – filled with harmonies and turns of phrase familiar from later works like the English Symphony and the Lady Radnor Suite. This piece is very much a Young Man’s music, and overflowing with all the first fine careless rapture one might expect.

Although from the same year the Second Sonata is a different beast; more mature, serious and probing, yet at the same time less obviously characteristic. Parry seems here to have been pushing himself to explore beyond his comfort zone, experimenting with different styles and influences. The result, though undoubtedly a serious and sincere piece, to me never quite seems to become the sum of its parts, or meld them into a stylistically convincing whole: perhaps it is just a matter of familiarity? In her slightly dry notes Lisa Hardy acclaims it as the most significant British piano sonata of the Nineteenth Century: I’m not sure how many plausible rivals there are for that august description, but it is definitely a solid and considered work, wrought with the composer’s characteristic integrity, and well worth any listener’s time.

These two CDs (comprising nearly 90 minutes) also feature a pair of piano suites from either end of the composer’s career. The Charakterbilder (did Parry’s penchant for Teutonic titles help reinforce his image as a mere Brahms-clone?) date from 1872, and feature titles recalling the 5th Symphony – Dreaming, Passion etc. They comprise seven robust and tuneful pieces, the longest (Striving) nearly six minutes. The Five Miniatures were published posthumously and, while just as immediately tuneful, are less expansive and at times even aphoristic: here perhaps the comparison with the intimate late Brahms of the Op 116-118 might for once be appropriate – in spirit if not in sound. 

British Music stalwart Richard Deering offers straightforward readings of all the music, albeit with a slightly unvarying tone and touch: is there occasionally more poetry and fantasy to be found?  With a similarly clear and straightforward recording it is good news to see that Heritage plan at least two more issues from this enterprising soloist. A valuable pendant to the recent recording of Prometheus Unbound, this disc greatly helps us further appreciate the full range of Parry’s achievements.

Review by Kevin Mandry