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Hyperion Records

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Portrait of Mary I by Hans Eworth (c1520-1574)
AKG London
Track(s) taken from CDA67874
Recording details: November 2010
Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, United Kingdom
Produced by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
Engineered by Martin Haskell
Release date: October 2011
Total duration: 13 minutes 15 seconds

'The Cardinall's Musick are at their best in this repertoire, and their performances have confidence and authority … Parsons certainly deserves the hearing that Carwood's musicians afford us, so this addition to the catalogue is very valuable' (Gramophone)

'Carwood and his singers highlight the inherent drama of Parsons' style, notably in O bone Jesu, with its changing textures, brilliant canons and expressive dissonances … perhaps the crowning glory of the disc is the final Ave Maria, the slow and poignant unfolding of which echoes long in the memory. Hyperion's detailed recording, swathed in the glowing acoustic of the Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, enhances these seraphic performances' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Parsons is not a one-hit-wonder after all … one may expect the incidence of Parsons' music on programmes to increase significantly especially after such a fine sound as Carwood generates' (Classic FM Magazine)

6vv S(S)A(A)TTBarB(B); elements of the triplex part reconstructed by Jason Smart
author of text
Luke 1: 46-55

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Parsons' earliest work is probably the opulent setting of the Magnificat which harkens back to a tradition seen clearly in the Eton Choirbook and which was developed by Robert Fayrfax, Nicholas Ludford and John Taverner. Five Magnificats in the Forrest-Heyther Partbooks and the Office Hymns by Tallis and Sheppard seem to suggest that Mary was keen to reinstate large-scale music at the Office of Vespers. The lack of accompanying Nunc dimittis settings suggest these Magnificats were designed specifically for Vespers rather than the reformed Evensong when both Canticles would be required.

Parsons’ setting uses a traditional alternation of plainsong and polyphony and is scored for six voices, sometimes with lengthy divisions or ‘gimells’, but this is no mere exercise by a young composer trying to find his feet. That Parsons has a sophisticated grasp of compositional techniques is seen most clearly in his use of canon (where one or more parts will repeat exactly a melody sung by an opening voice). These can be found in the sections ‘Quia fecit mihi magna’ (at the octave between triplex and contratenor II), ‘et sanctum nomen eius’ (at the ninth between tenor and medius), ‘et semini eius in saecula’ (at the tenth between bassus and medius) and at ‘Sicut erat in principio’ (a three-part canon at the unison between the two contratenors and at the octave with the triplex). Although Parsons is obviously drawing on older models, his setting seems less archaic than that by Robert White. There is no reliance on cantus firmus and the plainchant melody is given only slight attention in the polyphonic verses. Parsons does however preserve the use of melismatic writing for the solo lines and contrasts these with more massive full-choir sections.

Two important characteristics can be seen in this piece, both of which were later to reach their zenith in O bone Jesu. The first is an enjoyment of symmetry and development. In the Magnificat the various canons (imitation at the octave, the ninth, then tenth and culminating in the three-part canon at the unison and octave) have an obvious sense of progression. The second is a remarkably sophisticated understanding of the dramatic potential of the final section of an extended piece. It can be seen clearly in the ‘Amen’ where the bass and tenor parts are engaged in a dialogue which constantly reiterates their themes whilst the other parts weave a polyphonic web above them.

from notes by Andrew Carwood İ 2011

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