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Robert PARSONS (c.1530?–1572)
Magnificat [14.35]
Venite (First Great Service) [5.21]
Te Deum (First Great Service) [8.08]
Peccantem, me, quotidie (Responds for the Dead) [4.12]
Benedictus (First Great Service) [8.02]
Libera me, Domine (Responds for the Dead) [6.45]
Creed (First Great Service) [5.36]
Credo quod redemptor (Responds for the Dead) [3.28]
Magnificat (First Great Service) [5.17]
Nunc Dimittis (First Great Service) [2.44]
Ave Maria [5.36]
Voces Cantabiles/Barnaby Smith
rec. 8 February 2007, St. Jude on the Hill, Hampstead; 9 February 2007, All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak. DDD.
Texts and translations available as downloads only
NAXOS CD & 8.570451 [69.44]

 

 

Treasures of Tudor England
Robert Parsons (c.1535-1572)
Ave Maria
[4:28]
O bone Jesu [13:18]
Robert White (c.1538-1574)
Lamentations a 5
[22:24]
Christe qui lux es et dies IV [5:38]
Christopher Tye (c.1505-1573)
Agnus Dei from Mass Euge bone [6:26]
Peccavimus cum patribus nostris [10:45]
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
rec. St Paul’s, Deptford, October 2007. DDD
Texts and translations included with CD.
CORO CD & COR16056 [63:43]

Experience Classicsonline

London buses and bananas are not the only things that come in bunches. Hardly had the Naxos recording of Robert Parsons’ music come off the presses when The Sixteen included two pieces by him on their new album. My colleagues have already reviewed the Naxos recording in detail: RH thought the disc impressive, though he would have preferred greater attention to the English words – see review; MS was even more impressed – see review. I agree with them in welcoming the recording; it only remains for me to point out its availability as a download from classicsonline.com in very acceptable mp3 sound – actually at 320kbps, so even better than the 192kbps which is the classicsonline minimum – and with the opportunity to print the booklet from an Adobe Acrobat document. Those with keen hearing will always prefer wma or wav downloads, but 320kbps mp3 will be more than enough for the great majority of listeners.
 
I’d just like to correct a couple of wrong ends of sticks perhaps obtained from misleading suggestions in the Naxos notes. The service of Evensong, as prescribed in the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549 and in the Elizabethan book of 1559, was not exactly a new service – Vespers was traditionally known by that title in England, but Cranmer’s innovation was to translate it into English, re-order the manner in which the psalms and lessons were sung or recited, and add the canticle Nunc Dimittis from the late-night service of Compline. The two settings of the Magnificat on the CD, the first in Latin, the second in English from Parsons’ First Great Service, illustrate the greater emphasis on clarity of the words which the reformed order brought with it.
 
The Latin setting, though probably composed during the brief reign of Queen Mary, who restored the Roman rite, could have continued to be used at the Chapel Royal in Elizabeth’s reign, as a place where the language was “understanded of the people”, but the Latin responses from the Office of the Dead could not, since they were part of the elaborate late-medieval belief in purgatory, vigorously swept away by the reformers as “a fond thing vainly invented.” Of all the changes which the 1549 Prayer Book brought, the Burial Service contained the most drastic and the 1552 revision, repeated in the Elizabethan book of 1559, was more drastic still. Prayer for the dead was a thing of the past in England during Parsons’ composing career, except for the brief interim reign of Mary from 1553-1558. Only the text Credo quod redemptor – I know that my Redeemer liveth – was carried over into the English Burial Service, so this is the only “portion of the music” which, as the Naxos notes claim, “could have been written during the reign of Elizabeth I”.
 
The Ave Maria may well have been sung in the Chapel Royal, though not as a votive antiphon at the end of Compline after 1559, since the text contains only the angelic greeting, omitting the prayer to the Virgin Mary which was contrary to reformed theology. Compline having been merged with Evensong, the end of Evensong came to be the place where “in Quires and Places where they sing, here followeth the Anthem”, as the Prayer Book quaintly puts it. Parsons did not become a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal until 1563, well into Elizabeth’s reign.
 
Both my colleagues are lenient on Naxos’s omission of texts – they have to be downloaded from the Naxos website. Hasn’t anyone cottoned on to the fact that CD buyers find this irritating – that they would have saved themselves a few pence by downloading the recording if they were into downloading?
 
The Sixteen cast their nets wider, offering not only music by the neglected Parsons, whom I rate as a major discovery, but also that of Robert White and Christopher Tye who have also yet to receive their fair share of appreciation. We could have done without another version of the Parsons Ave Maria, already available in at least two anthologies as well as on the Naxos recording, but The Sixteen offer a very sympathetic performance of it, brisker than that of Voces Cantabiles. The piece is so beautiful that it will easily bear both interpretations, but I marginally prefer The Sixteen.
 
Even more beautiful is the second Parsons work, O bone Jesu, a long piece which in no sense outstays its welcome in the excellent performance which it receives here.
 
Robert White or Whyte, Master of the choristers successively at Ely, Chester and Westminster Abbey, is best known, if at all, for his Lamentations, so it is again a pity that The Sixteen did not choose to offer something less well known, but the 5-part set included here is less well known than the 6-part setting. Again, the melancholy beauty of the music and the passionate beauty of the singing disarm criticism. There being no native English tradition of setting the Lamentations, White had to turn to continental models and their influence is more apparent in this 5-part setting than in his 6-part version.
 
A recent Harmonia Mundi recording of Music for Compline performed by Stile Antico (HMU90 7419, SACD HMU80 7419) features (the same?) setting of Christe, qui lux es. I haven’t heard this recording and I don’t think it has come the way of any of my colleagues, but it has been very well received elsewhere; I don’t think, however, that it is likely to excel the performance on Coro – a simple performance of a beautiful piece with no sense of over-egging the pudding: this is a pudding which neither needs nor receives such treatment, with its alternating plainchant and polyphonic verses.
 
My favourite recording of White’s 6-part Lamentations and Libera me, Domine, on ASV, has been deleted but reissued by Regis. I strongly recommend it: Tears and Lamentations, music by White coupled with works from the Fayrfax MS and Henry VIII’s Book (Pro Cantione Antiqua/Mark Brown and Edgar Fleet) once seen as ASV CDQS6151 and now available as Regis RRC 1259.
 
Christopher Tye was White’s father-in-law and predecessor at Ely, so it is fitting that the CD ends with two of his works. If the Agnus Dei makes you want to hear the whole Mass, Euge bone, from which it is taken, that is my only complaint about the pieces chosen or their performance. Let me recommend the coupling of the Mass with Anthony Mundy’s Magnificat, performed by Jeremy Summerly and the Oxford Camerata (Naxos 8.550937, also as a 320kbps mp3 download from classicsonline.com.) This and Peccavimus cum patribus nostris – a work with a penitential text, “We have sinned as our fathers did”, but uplifting music – make a fine end to a wholly recommendable recording.
 
The Sixteen and The Tallis Scholars are sometimes criticised for sounding too polished – both groups certainly are that – but both almost invariably go beyond mere polish. So it is here: the singing is deeply affective as well as highly accomplished. In many ways this is The Sixteen’s best recording since that of Carver’s Dum sacrum mysterium (COR16051) still just about my favourite among their recordings.
 
The acoustic and recording balance are just right and the notes are informative. The booklet cover is more attractive than that of the Naxos which, for once, is rather nondescript.
 
The Coro recording is also available to download from classicsonline.com and theclassicalshop.net. Both offer it as an mp3 at 320kbps; theclassicalshop also offers the opportunity – generously available to all-comers – to download and print the booklet, which, unlike the Naxos booklet, does contain full texts and translations. The mp3 sound is more than adequate. I can’t speak for the versions on eMusic and iTunes, though the former are usually reliable and the latter offered in their higher-quality ‘plus’ format.
 
Both these recordings are recommendable, especially to those who already know some of the more frequently recorded Tudor composers. If you don’t yet know much of the gold medallists, Byrd and Tallis, you should begin with them; otherwise you’ll be more than happy with these silver medal runners-up. One way or the other, you should obtain one or both of these recordings; if you can’t be bothered to download, just order the CDs and, when they arrive, sit back and enjoy.
 
Brian Wilson

see also reviews by Robert Hugill and Mark Sealey of the Naxos CD

 

 


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