Friday, June 13, 2008

Parsonic Boom

Music of Robert Parsons
Voces Cantabile / Barnaby Smith
Naxos Records, 8.570451
  • First Great Service
  • Responds for the Dead (Latin Service)


After my recent acquisition of the Gabrieli Consort's Road to Paradise, I searched through my music collection for other works by the little-known Robert Parsons. His five-voice Ave Maria culminates with an 80 second Amen that is the most glorious bit of music from the Renaissance I've ever heard. At least as it's presented to us by McCreesh & Company. And it turns out to be the only piece by Parsons in my whole collection.

So I searched online a bit for more of Robert Parsons, about whom quite little is known. The following is the entirety of Wikipedia's entry on him:

Robert Parsons (c. 1535 - January 1572) was an English composer.

Although little is known about the life of Robert Parsons, it is likely that in his youth he was a choir boy, as until 1561 he was an assistant to Richard Bower, Master of the Children Choristers of the Chapel Royal.

Parsons was appointed Gentleman of the Chapel Royal on 17 October 1563. His work consisted of a number of sacred and secular vocal compositions, including his Ave Maria, as well as some instrumental pieces. He is believed to have died in January 1572 when he fell into the then swollen River Trent and was drowned. He may have been a teacher of, or at least an influence on, William Byrd at Lincoln Cathedral. Byrd succeeded him as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal.

My favorite recording label, Naxos, has the only all-Parsons release I was able to find, a 2007 issue featuring the choir Voces Cantabile, under the baton of Barnaby Smith. Formed in 2003 of ex-choristers from Westminster Abbey, here is yet another young London-based choir taking advantage of the country's wonderfully rich choral heritage.

While I'm thrilled to find more of this composer, these performances don't quite reach the top-shelf level of the Gabrieli Consort (as is perhaps to be expected from such a young ensemble). The choir doesn't blend to the same ethereal degree, and they don't achieve the confident pitch solidity, especially in what seem like a couple less-than-ideal edits where the choir's pitch changes suddenly and noticeably. Pitch is a particularly sticky point for me, and not everyone may object to the same degree.

But for that, though, it's a fine, respectable effort, and it fills a void in the recorded repertoire of another of England's shining Tudor lights.


Dzesika said...

... and I bet when you Googled "Robert Parsons" you got a ton of stuff on the guy who started Go Daddy. Heh.

wunelle said...

I confess I did not Google! I went straight to Wikipedia. I figure if they have an entry it will be reasonably complete, and it saves having to wade through all the BS that comes with any internet search. Wikipedia gave me two options: 1) the composer and 2) a 17th Century Jesuit priest.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill,
Find the Parsons Project online.
It is a project spearheaded by George Steele, dir. of the Miller Theatre at Columbia, and dir. of the Vox Vocal Ensemble (a more or less pick up professional group of singers from around town).
The Parsons Project has newly edited scores of most, if not all, of his works(all downloadable for free),as well as superb recordings of most of them (also downloadable).
They did a lot of performances of Parson's works at St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia several years back on the Miller Series.
Excellent understanding of the style and execution thereof.
Highly recommended!
David Dunkle

wunelle said...

Many thanks for this! I'm on my way to look now.

Anonymous said...

So, what did you think?
Pretty good singing, in my book.
And you get to look at the scores at the same time!
david dunkle

shrimplate said...

This is a feast for me. The Parsons Project is something else. Thank you so much for bringing this stuff to my attention.

wunelle said...

Yeah, the singing is great and to look at the scores as it goes is fabulous! These are not scores which one would expect to find readily available, so it's a double bonus!

Anonymous said...

Certainly can't take any credit for this. I've known about this site for ages, since I quite like Parsons's music, and have performed some of it myself.
It is incredible the amount of work that went into this, both audio & publishing, and all this for no charge to interested persons.
Gives one faith in the www., for its many possibilities!
david dunkle

Anonymous said...

The Naxos Parsons CD is very good. This one

is even better!

I walked into a record shop where it was playing and bought it 'off the speakers'.

wunelle said...

Thanks for the tip; it's downloading as I type!