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Briefly Noted: Robert Parsons

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Sacred Music by Robert Parsons,
The Cardinall's Musick, A. Carwood

(released on October 11, 2011)
Hyperion CDA67874 | 70'07"
It is odd that we have not mentioned the British choir The Cardinall's Musick until now. Founded in 1989, the ensemble has come into its own in the last few years, becoming one of the strongest competitors in the field of Renaissance polyphony with the Tallis Scholars. Under their director, Andrew Carwood, who is also director of music at St. Paul's Cathedral, the group has made significant contributions to the discography of the English Renaissance, not least with an excellent series of the complete works of William Byrd, of which the latest, vol. 13, was recognized with Gramophone awards last year. Add to that pile this recent release of beautifully recorded music by Robert Parsons (c. 1535-1572), a highly regarded composer who met an early death, by drowning in the River Trent, to be succeeded as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal by none other than William Byrd. Not much music survives by Parsons (see this collection of online scores), but it has been recorded before, especially piecemeal for anthology-type discs. An Australian group, The Parsons Affayre, recorded all nine of the Latin pieces two years ago, but this recording includes all of those pieces, plus two brief works in English, and in better performances, for both the quality of singing and recorded sound. Like Byrd and others of his generation, Parsons seems to have remained faithful to Rome in his compositional tendencies, lavishing particular attention on Latin texts, especially the lengthy setting of the Magnificat, in alternatim setting with Latin chant. Like the photograph image of Queen Mary I, the Catholic daughter of Henry VIII, on the cover, the choice to make this recording in the Fitzalan Chapel of Arundel Castle, which maintained its Catholic identity distinct from the local Anglican parish, underscores the music's Romish leanings.

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