Thursday, 12 August 2010

"The Best of England" Parry 3 Choirs

Highnam Church is in Gloucestershire, on the estate where Hubert Parry grew up.,He learned to play the organ here as a small boy, and visited it again a few months before he died. It's not ancient but a completely new church, designed and built in 1851 by Parry's father, who also painted the frescoes. On Tuesday, St Cecilia Singers, conducted by Ashley Grote, sang Hubert Parry's Songs of Farewell.

Please read the address by Anthony Boden given on the occasion. It is extremely moving. The last Parry to occupy the estate loved this church and was also a stalwart member of the 3 Choirs Festival. He would have been at this concert, in his element, but passed away suddenly a month ago. Many in the audience knew and remembered.

Boden's speech commemorates Hubert Parry, but it also tells a lot about the ethos of the 3 Choirs festival, and why it's so unique. It is much more than a music festival, it's a community that has been growing for many generations. I love 3 Choirs because of its old-fashioned, unsophisticated charm. Indeed, I think the more you understand the genius loci, the "spirit" of the landscape and people, the more you value the music.

In Gloucester the past hangs heavily on the present. There's a timelessness in this part of the world that's hard to express. It feels very different from London, and from Aldeburgh. Different threads of Englishness. Britten did come to Three Choirs, reluctantly I suspect, and Finzi went to Aldeburgh, but I'm not sure RVW did. Very different vibes. Some London-based folk don't seem to know these alternative worlds even exist.

To quote Ivor Gurney, Gloucester born and bred :
If England, her spirit lives anywhere
It is by Severn, by hawthorns and grand willows.
Earth heaves up twice a hundred feet in air
And ruddy clay falls scooped out to the weedy shallows.
There in the brakes of May Spring has her chambers,
Robing-rooms of hawthorn, cowslip, cuckoo flower —
Wonder complete changes for each square joy's hour,
Past thought miracles are there and beyond numbers.

If for the drab atmospheres and managed lighting
In London town, Oriana's playwrights had
Wainlode her theatre and then coppice clad
Hill for her ground of sauntering and idle waiting.
Why, then I think, our chiefest glory of pride
(The Elizabethans of Thames, South and Northern side)
Would nothing of its needing be denied,
And her sons praises from England's mouth again be outcried.

 (photo credit: Phil Draper)

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