There are only a handful of vocal ensembles in Australia equipped to give persuasive and informed performances of Renaissance liturgical music. This Sydney-based early music group certainly has the right choral credentials, having formed in 2009 after members took part in the Tallis Scholars Summer School program. The Parsons Affayre model themselves after that revered choir in English Catholic Renaissance repertoire; this latest disc follows a release devoted to the music of their namesake, Tudor composer Robert Parsons.
The new album takes its title from the florid Stabat mater of William Cornysh (d 1523). It is one of the most impressive performances here: pure, soaring soprano lines, expertly balanced in counterpoint with the basses, maintain momentum through time changes. Inner voices, however, are less assured.
Byrd’s famous motet Ave verum corpus is well controlled and casts an appropriately solemn mood, but might have benefited from more contrast and expansive shaping. His Infelix ego is sweet and airy in sustained soprano notes.
The basses are the stars of the darker-hued Tallis Lamentations of Jeremiah I. This reading opens rigidly but weaving polyphonic textures begin to bloom beautifully as the choir warms to the work. The plaintive, repeated cries of “Jerusalem” towards the end are genuinely moving.
Wahroonga Prepatory School’s acoustic is almost unbearable in this repertoire: dry, thin textures and dulled reverb take much of the polish off these performances. Conductor Warren Trevelyan-Jones has sung as a tenor with The Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen, so he no doubt knows there is plenty of competition from English groups singing in richly sonorous churches.