Several years ago I heard from Maria Ray, the niece of the eminent baritone, William Parsons. I was interested to find out that he had appeared with Webster in various oratorios.
Photo of William Parsons, courtesy of Maria Ray.
References to William Parsons in my book, A Scattered Garland: Gleanings from lives of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, compiled by Jean Collen
17 January 1935 – Queen’s Hall, London. Royal Philharmonic Concert: Choral Symphony (Beethoven) Janet Hamilton-Smith, Margaret McArthur, Webster Booth, William Parsons and the BBC Chorus, conducted by Felix Weingartner.
The Ninth Symphony (Beethoven) – The second part of the season will declare itself open on Thursday when symphony concerts are resumed at the Queen’s Hall. The Royal Philharmonic Society will give a performance of the Ninth Symphony, conducted by Dr Weingartner. The soloists at the Philharmonic concert are Miss Janet Hamilton-Smith, Miss Margaret McArthur, Mr Webster Booth, and Mr William Parsons; Dr Weingartner will conduct the BBC chorus and will preface the Ninth Symphony with Beethoven’s first.
The Times – Royal Philharmonic Society The Ninth Symphony. To hear the First and the Ninth Symphonies in one programme is an inspiration. If one man’s mind could increase its span in 25 years to the extent shown by a comparison of the two finales, then no one need despair. The resemblance in kind is as striking as the difference in degree, in spite of the fact that Beethoven employed a chorus in the late work and used but a modest Mozartian orchestra in the early. In No. I the violins grope, only much more briefly, for their theme just as the violoncellos do more searchingly in No. 9. And whereas a little scholarly ingenuity might demonstrate that the symphonic movement of No. 1 is directly descended from the ensemble of Italian Opera Buffa, we have it on Wagner’s authority that the choral variations of No. 9 lead back into music-drama. But it is more fitting now to abandon these speculations and to pay tribute to a very great, though not perhaps a flawless, performance of the two symphonies at Queen’s Hall last night under Dr. Weingartner.
The flaws need not be specified beyond questioning the orchestral balance – the choir was conspicuously good in this respect: thus the drummer, using a hand stick, gave an admirably crisp rhythm, but too prominent a sound, while in the slow movement the horns seemed unduly retiring. Dr. Weingartner’s tempo for the trio of the scherzo did not seem too quick but was actually slightly out of proportion to the rest of the movement. But by a similar discrepancy in the choral movement he ingeniously made it possible for the choir to sing all their notes – and sing them they did – so giving the impression of speed without hurry. Another pleasing subtlety of tempo was to be observed in the Minuet of the first symphony, when at the reprise there was just the slightest increase in tension.
The soloists had the great merit of making a quartet, though Miss Janet Hamilton-Smith must be singled out for a special word of praise because she had the right kind of tone, at once clear and rich, and so used her soprano voice that every note told without effort: Mr. Webster Booth, the tenor, and Miss Margaret McArthur equally proved their ability to brush aside all the difficulties of Beethoven’s vocal writing. Mr. William Parsons only just failed to do so in the opening recitative, which if not technically is dramatically exacting – elsewhere he was admirable. The B.B.C. Chorus, fresh from a performance of the same work at the Promenades last week, were worthy of all praise. It was therefore a singularly homogenous and inspiring performance. And the mighty oak looked all the nobler for having the acorn side by side with it.
19 January 1935 – Western Morning News. Royal Philharmonic Concert – the Ninth Symphony. The orchestral playing left nothing to be desired and the choral singing was first class. The BBC Chorus having sung the work under Sir Henry Wood last week was well primed. The quartet consisted of Miss Janet Hamilton-Smith, Miss Margaret McArthur, Mr Webster Booth, and Mr William Parsons – a young team whose names are not very familiar to us, but whose engagement was well justified. The enthusiasm at the end was tremendous, and Dr Weingartner was presented with a laurel wreath.
February 1935 – Musical Times. Royal Philharmonic Society. The concert that reopened the season on January 17 was almost a great one, but not quite, because Doctor Weingartner and the orchestra were not on ideally intimate terms in Beethoven’s first and ninth symphonies. (Unless memory is at sea this was the first time that the London Philharmonic Orchestra as a whole had played either of these works). What Weingartner did to the symphonies was, however, great interpretation. He rose to consummate mastery in the choral movement, which he made one and inevitable.
The BBC Chorus, either inspiring or inspired by the conductor, or more probably both, sang with surpassing brilliance. In the solo quartet Mr William Parsons was joined by three less-known singers on the principle, no doubt, that the great ones are wasted on such music and so short a duty. Miss Janet Hamilton-Smith, Miss Margaret McArthur, and Mr Webster Booth demonstrated that the less-known are also less likely to reduce Beethoven to farce by an ensemble of wobbles.
23 November 1936 – Leeds – Week of Choral Concerts. The week will be a full one from the point of view of choral concerts. Tomorrow Bach’s Mass in B minor will be sung by Leeds Philharmonic Society with Elsie Suddaby, Astra Desmond, Steuart Wilson and
William Parsons for principals, Sir Edward Bairstow conducting. On Wednesday, Bradford Old Choral Society, conducted by Mr Wilfred Knight, will sing Handel’s Acis
and Galatea, and Elgar’s Banner of St George in a miscellaneous programme shared by Olive Groves, Webster Booth and Bernard Ross…
15 December 1936 – Messiah, Albert Hall, Nottingham.
Nottingham Harmonic Society, Lilian Stiles-Allen (soprano), Mary Jarred (contralto), Webster Booth (tenor), William Parsons (bass) conducted by Leslie Heward.
Memories of Hiawatha at the Royal Albert Hall.
22 December 1941 – Yorkshire Post Eastbrook Hall was again filled to capacity on Saturday, when the Bradford Festival Choral Society, assisted by the Northern Philharmonic Orchestra, gave its annual performance of Handel’s Messiah. Two changes had been made in the artists since the names were first announced. Perhaps the most important was the change in conductor, Mr Roy Henderson taking the place of Dr Malcolm Sargent, who was conducting the Royal Choral Society in London.
Mr Henderson, who was making his first appearance in Bradford as conductor, created a distinctly favourable impression. Obviously full of energy and enthusiasm himself, he showed that he was able to convey his feelings to the members of the chorus, who responded nobly to his many exacting demands. All the choral numbers were excellently sung, some fine climaxes being achieved. The rehearsals evidently bore fruit, for the singers were replicas of the conductor, singing with intelligence, while the diction throughout was exceptionally good.
Occasionally, Mr Henderson appeared to allow enthusiasm to get the better of him and at such times the speeds tended to be quicker than those to which we are accustomed, but audience as well as singers enjoyed the thrill of it all.
The four solo artists reached a consistently high level. Miss Joan Cross used her flexible voice exceedingly well in Rejoice Greatly, while her legato singing in Come Unto Him was very effective. Miss Muriel Gale’s rich full-toned voice was heard to great advantage especially in O, Thou That Tellest and He Shall Feed His Flock. Mr Walter Widdop, (who took the place of Mr Webster Booth) proved to be a great favourite. His opening solos were somewhat marred because Mr Henderson did not make the accompaniments flexible enough; but the latter items were very enjoyable. Mr William Parsons, who had the assistance of Mr John Paley in The Trumpet Shall Sound, showed his dramatic power, especially in The People that Walked in Darkness.
Mr H.S. Hurst was at the organ, of which instrument much more frequent use might have been made for its tone to act as a contrast to that of the orchestra.
30 December 1939, Plymouth Guildhall
18 August 1941 Dartington Hall Acis and Galatea
7 December 1943 – Yorkshire Post – Huddersfield Choral Society.
Huddersfield Choral Society are to perform Handel’s Messiah at Blackpool Opera House on January 2. Dr Malcolm Sargent will conduct the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and the principals will include Mary Jarred, Webster Booth and William Parsons.
Anne Ziegler was the soprano soloist on this occasion.
2 January 1944 – Messiah. 2.30pm New Opera House, Blackpool. Festival performance in aid of the Mayor’s Services Welfare Fund. Anne Ziegler, Mary Jarred, Webster Booth, William Parsons, with Huddersfield Choral Society, Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (Ena Baga at the organ) conducted by Dr Malcolm Sargent
4 January 1944 – Yorkshire Post Huddersfield Choir at Blackpool Two hundred and forty members of the Huddersfield Choral Society visited Blackpool on Sunday to give what proved to be a memorable performance of Handel’s Messiah. An audience of more than 3,000 which packed the New Opera House in the Winter Gardens showed great enthusiasm at the close and gave the choir, the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the principals, Anne Ziegler, Mary Jarred, Webster Booth and William Parsons and the conductor, Dr Malcolm Sargent, an ovation. The choir were in best voice and under Dr Sargent’s inspiring leadership provided a most artistic performance.
After the performance, the Mayor of Blackpool (Councillor J. Parkinson) and Dr Sargent warmly supported a suggestion voiced by Mr Frank Netherwood, the president of the Society that the success of the society’s first appearance in Blackpool should lead to further visits.
29 October 1947 Albert Herring (Britten)
Here are William Parsons and Thea Phillips singing “Waltzes from Vienna”.