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