Sacred Music by Robert Parsons

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: O bone Jesu; Retribue servo tuo; Magnificat; Libera me, Domine; Domine, quis habitabit?; Solemnis urgebat dies ‘Iam Christus astra ascenderat’; Ave Maria; Credo quod redemptor; Holy Lord God Almighty; Peccantem me quotidie; Deliver Me from Mine Enemies
PERFORMER: The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood

Having previously explored English polyphony at the extremes of the 16th century – Cornysh, Fayrfax and Ludford at the beginning, Byrd at the end – The Cardinall’s Musick now bridges the gap with the enigmatic mid-century composer Robert Parsons. He lived through some of the most turbulent years of England’s religious and political history, and his life was tragically cut short when he drowned at a young age. So, while there are some serene works here, with soaring melismatic lines that hark back to the music of the Eton Choirbook, most of these pieces are sonorously scored for low voices and peppered with bitter dissonances, giving them a dark, plangent quality.
Director Andrew Carwood draws earthy, visceral performances; the ensemble’s virile sound and Parsons’s sinewy polyphony are a far cry from what some critics describe as the ‘whitewashed’, English choral tradition. Carwood and his singers highlight the inherent drama of Parson’s style, notably in O bone Jesu, with its changing textures, brilliant canons and expressive dissonances. The basses resonate magnificently in Peccantem me quotidie, in Holy Lord God Almighty and in the hauntingly austere Libera me, while, by contrast, the monumental Magnificat sounds radiant.
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. Kate Bolton