Hyperion Records

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

Recordings
'Parsons: Sacred Music' (CDA67874)
Parsons: Sacred Music
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Details

Magnificat
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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 © 2011

Track-specific metadata
Details for CDA67874 track 7
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-11-87407
Duration
13'15
Recording date
17 November 2010
Recording venue
Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
Recording engineer
Martin Haskell
Hyperion usage
  1. Parsons: Sacred Music (CDA67874)
    Disc 1 Track 7
    Release date: October 2011
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