Robert Parsons: Sacred Music Import
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Gramophone award-winning ensemble The Cardinall's Musick present an album of music by Renaissance composer Robert Parsons. Very few records remain of the composer's short life and his musical output is often overlooked, perhaps due to the long shadow William Byrd, his successor as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. However, Parsons' vocal writing is some of the most opulent of the period. The Cardinall's Musick give sublime performances of some of the composer's most sumptuous choral works, from the remarkably sophisticated Magnificat to the dramatic O bone Jesu. As demonstrated in their previous recordings, their resonant, pure-toned singing is the perfect advocate for such exquisite polyphony.
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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.
Stephen gives a very good description of the disc and has said much of what I would have said: Parsons wrote some terrific music in his short life and The Cardinall's Musick sing it wonderfully. Tudor polyphony is repertoire in which they really excel and I would put this disc in the same class as their superlative recordings of Fayrfax, Ludford and Byrd - very high praise indeed but thoroughly merited. The singing is beautiful and genuinely engaged with the texts, the recorded sound is superb, the notes excellent and the presentation very attractive.
In short, it's a cracker and very warmly recommended. My advice is to snap it up.