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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Robert Parsons was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from 1563 until his death in 1572 when he as drowned in the River Trent. He was succeeded by William Byrd, but his music then fell out of the performing repertoire. Not only was his Great Service revolutionary in setting the English texts but it was also one of the first settings to attempt a musical unification between the different movements. As this disc shows, he was a master of polyphony and his First Great Service was probably the model for both Byrd and Tomkins. The Liturgy, interspersed with items from the Responds for the Dead, is very English in flavour, freshly and euphoniously so, making this yet another Naxos issue to expand our range of repertory. Barnaby Smith and his Voces Cantabiles make a strong case for this little-known master, and their expert recording team do them full justice. Excellent sound. Strongly recommended.



Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, August 2008

… 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. …Both my colleagues are lenient on Naxos’s omission of texts – they have to be downloaded from the Naxos website. …the second Parsons work, O bone Jesu, [is] a long piece which in no sense outstays its welcome in the excellent performance which it receives here.



J. F. Weber
Fanfare, August 2008

This ensemble is new, formed in 2003 by former choirboys of Westminster Abbey, including [Barnaby] Smith, who was a soloist; but the group now has mixed adult voices, though the women project a piercing white tone. Robert Parsons (c. 1530-1572) sang at the Chapel Royal, his place being given to William Byrd at his death. He fell into the river Trent in January, a fate that so affected his confreres that they ceased to sing his music. Yet a great deal of it has somehow survived. I have over a dozen single pieces in recorded collections (the Ave Maria is the most duplicated), but this is the first full disc. . . .The responds and the canticle are first recordings except for "Credo quod redemptor" (28:5). The six-voice Latin Magnificat is the longest single piece here, part of a tradition of large-scale canticles that may be found in the Eton Choir Book. The three selections from the Responds for the Dead are also set in Latin, so the Great Service is the only Anglican music (sung in English) heard here.

The new group did well to make a place for themselves by offering something as offbeat as a composer's first dedicated CD. Fortunately, they are sympathetic to the music. The two main works (the longest one and the most popular one) frame the program. In between, the three Latin responds, polyphonic settings of texts found even now in the chant editions for the Office of the Dead, alternate among the parts of the Great Service. . .Altogether, this disc gives us a better grasp of Robert Parsons than the single selections ever did. It should be noted that Parsons has also been represented fairly well in recorded collections by secular music, several pieces recurring over the years. This disc should be mandatory for Tudor music collections.




William Yeoman
Limelight Magazine, June 2008

Voces Cantabiles is a mixed-voice choir, though it does use exclusively male altos; the resulting sound is very close to that of a traditional cathedral choir, though with an added strength and security in the soprano line. Both choir and conductor prove trustworthy advocates of Parson’s music. The disc opens with the Magnificat, and the listener is immediately struck not only by the richness and complexity of Parsons’ writing but the vibrancy and clarity of Voces Cantabiles’ singing. This latter becomes even more apparent in the First Great Service, which is scored for double choir while providing ample scope for soloists to contribute to an overall atmosphere of luminous dignity. …The recorded sound is bright and attractive, while Smith’s booklet notes provide much useful information on the composer and his music.



Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, March 2008

"Barnaby Smith and Voces Cantabiles have created an impressive disc of Parsons’ music. The group numbers some 22 singers which means that the altos and tenors are singing two voices to a part in the eight-part music. This does not give us a luxuriantly well upholstered sound, instead you are aware of beautifully crafted vocal lines and a good interplay between individual voices. The group responds to Parsons’ music with enthusiasm and conveys this to their listeners." [...]

"This is an impressive disc, and should go some way towards rehabilitating Parsons' cause in the recorded music industry. Newly created editions for these pieces are used. Whilst it would be possible to imagine more technically sophisticated performances, Parsons' cause is in good hands as the choir deliver his music with enthusiasm, lively vividness and fine musicality."



David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2007

The name of Robert Parsons has been consigned to a brief mention in the history of English music. If there is any justice in the musical world, this recording will restore him to the list of great 16th century composers. In some measure it may well have been the suspicious circumstances of his death by drowning in 1572, at the age of 42, that hastily removed his music from the repertoire of the Chapel Royal of which he served as a 'Gentleman'. While in the service of the royal family it is known that he was a prolific composer who fitted into the new Reformation of the English Church under the recently crowned King Edward VI, Parsons being responsible with Shepherd and Tallis in setting to music the new English church texts. I will not extend this introduction further, as the disc's accompanying booklet has everything you need, though I will add that such was Parsons importance, his place was taken by no less than William Byrd on his sudden death. The disc intersperses the Responds for the Dead into the First Great Service, his most extensive single choral work to have survived, the Magnificat, opening the disc. Scored for two antiphonal choirs the First Great Service is notable for the wealth of melodic invention with the occasional crunch in harmony to add brininess. It concludes with the ethereal Ave Maria. The disc is performed by a recently created British choral group, Voces Cantabiles, its members mainly drawn from singers that had served as choristers in London's Westminster Abbey. The fact that it contains sopranos rather than boy trebles will compromise the performance if you are looking for period 'authenticity', but the female voices do enjoy power and rock-steady intonation when high in the vocal stratospheres. The result is a very commercial sound expected in today's liturgical choral groups, the well focused male voices adding weight to the overall sound. Wipe away that period doubt and you have one of the most readily attractive Early Music choral discs to have entered the CD catalogue. Their Artistic Director, Barnaby Smith, must be complimented on the whole enterprise, his use of dynamics, accents and layering of sound adding to the disc's attractions. The church acoustic has been well captured, and adds resonance without clouding intonation or clarity in the more complex passages. Fervently recommended.






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2:26:31 AM, 23 August 2014
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