This is an absolutely beautiful disc, both for the music and for its performance. Robert Parsons (c.1535-1572) was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and an esteemed composer in his day, but he left far less music to posterity and is much less known than his great near-contemporaries Tallis and Byrd. That must surely be at least in part because tragically, at only 36 years of age, he died in a drowning accident in the River Trent at Newark. But, as will soon be clear to anyone who listens to this marvellous CD, the music we do have from him is magnificent.
The opening motet, "Domine quis habitabit?", is simply beautiful - wonderfully pure and lucid music, sung here with absolute mastery. The rest of the programme consists of motets mainly on Latin texts but with a couple in English, with three more substantial works which are true masterpieces - an alternatim Magnificat, glorious in both melody and texture with soaring, sinuous lines that reminded me of Josquin; "Retribue servo tuo", a work of unusually rich and varied textures with two alto and no soprano/treble parts; and another extended piece, "O bone Jesu" - similarly scored, again most beautiful in melody and intensely rich in texture, and with an especially fine climax. Other favourites for me are the superb setting of "Deliver me from mine enemies", and the one Parsons work that is somewhat better known and has been more frequently performed and recorded - the lovely "Ave Maria", with its deeply satisfying final sequence of chords bringing the disc to a close.
The entire programme is well judged and organised, varied in texture, and most beautifully performed by The Cardinall's Musick; in fact I would say that, of the many fine things the group have brought us from that era, this CD is one of their best. The recording quality is first-class, and Andrew Carwood's own booklet notes are extremely interesting and helpful, including some fascinating historical background and further enhanced by the fine cover picture - a deeply perceptive portrait by the Flemish master Hans Eworth of Queen Mary I, reigning monarch when Parsons was a young man. On the evidence of this fabulous disc, Robert Parsons was clearly an absolute master of melody, texture and expression, and his music readily bears comparison with that of the other great Tudor composers. This brilliant and adventurous programme, then, is a great credit to Andrew Carwood and his excellent bunch, and altogether a truly outstanding contribution to the discography of renaissance music.