By Clare Stevens

Charles Hubert Hastings Parry is best known as the composer of Jerusalem, sung each year at the Last Night of the Proms, but this year’s centenary of his death has provided an opportunity for concert promoters to explore his less-familiar works – which is proving to be a very rewarding experience, as the tribute concert at the Hereford Three Choirs Festival proved.

It opened with Blest pair of sirens, Parry’s setting of John Milton’s Ode to a Solemn Music, which is well known and loved by aficionados of church music. The Philharmonia Orchestra made the most of the ravishing instrumental accompaniment more usually heard on the organ, but the festival chorus did not quite match the standard of some of their other performances during the week. This may have been because the extraordinarily tight rehearsal schedule for the festival means that time is usually spent on rarities and the most difficult pieces rather than on works that the singers are expected to know.

My initial thought that their voices were beginning to show the strain of the long week, and in particular the previous night’s very tiring programme, was dispelled by their first entry in Invocation to Music, the much more substantial work which occupied the second half of the programme. This is indeed a rarity, a setting of a poem by Parry’s friend Robert Bridges which was specially written as a collaboration between poet and composer for the Leeds Triennial Festival in 1894. The chorus acquitted themselves admirably in this Hereford performance, delivering the rich text very clearly, throwing themselves energetically into the fourth section’s vivid depictions of winds and waves and responding promptly to every nuance of Sir Andrew Davis’s conducting. As the music built to a huge climax in section eight, they somehow found another gear and an already powerful crescendo became almost overwhelming.

Three world-class soloists, soprano Katherine Broderick, tenor Mark Le Brocq and bass David Stout, were perfectly matched and all in fine voice; a love duet between Broderick and Le Brocq in section five was a particular highlight.

The programme also included Parry’s fifth symphony, a concise, well-crafted and very personal work which eloquently expresses four emotional states: ‘Stress’, ‘Love’, ‘Play’ and ‘Now’. It was a treat to hear the Philharmonia under the baton of Sir Andrew give an engaging and polished performance of a piece that Parry scholar Jeremy Dibble considers to be one of the masterpieces of symphonic repertoire.