Parry and Stanford seem to have emerged at last from the shadow of stuffy Victorianism to take their places as respected contemporaries and, in some instances, equals of Elgar. This recording, however, is special in two particulars. Firstly, it offers rich and rare orchestral versions of sacred music more familiarly accompanied on the organ. And second – and I can’t think of a previous instance – the music is played on period instruments; that is, those in use 100 years ago.
Stanford’s first setting of the Morning and Evening Service hails from 1879 and is a remarkable achievement for a 27-year-old. Conceived orchestrally, with the rules of symphonic development underpinning the whole edifice, the work was a breath of fresh air blowing through the Victorian Church of England. Three more of Stanford’s services are included here showing the level of melodic invention and sheer variety of this considerable contrapuntalist.
Parry is represented by Elgar’s orchestration of Jerusalem, the Coronation Te Deum from 1911, the refulgent Blest Pair of Sirens (his ode to music for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee), and I Was Glad, the coronation anthem to end them all.
The players and singers of the King’s Consort have this music in their blood and bone and Robert King’s period sensibilities ensure that nothing is ever stodgy. The lavish orchestrations are lovingly revealed with warm gut strings, mellow woodwind, burnished brass and the Hereford Cathedral organ. Tempi are perfectly judged, the soloists – a radiant Carolyn Sampson and the indestructible David Wilson-Johnson – are near ideal and the choral singing joyous. More than that, though, there is a terrific sense of occasion. The fanfares and cries of “Vivat!” in I Was Glad, for instance, will bring a lump to the throat of all but the flintiest-hearted Republican. Glorious!