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of our 2013 concerts!
Sunday 24th November 2013
Handel - Carmelite Vespers
including Dixit Dominus
English Touring Opera orchestra and soloists
Counterpoint combined forces with English Touring Opera, Exeter Cathedral Choir
and ISCA Voices in a dazzling concert of choral music, together with ETO's orchestra and soloists.
Saturday 26th October 2013
The Remarkable Mr. Henry Purcell
James Bowman (countertenor)
This was Counterpoint's Final Concert at Buckfast Abbey, and celebrated the past 28 years of concerts and services in this wonderful church. We performed our most popular pieces from our long history. The choir comprised singers from those many happy years, including our good friend, James Bowman.
I was glad when they said unto me
Remember not, Lord, our Offences
Evening Service in G minor (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis) *
Hymn to God the Father - Pelham Humfrey (James Bowman)
Lord, how long wilt thou be angry
Funeral Music for Queen Mary
Thy Word is a Lantern *
Jubilate in D major *
Hear my Prayer
Jehova quam multi sunt hostes
Evening Hymn (James Bowman)
Rejoice in the Lord *
* Verse sections sung by James Bowman
At Buckfast Abbey on Saturday 26th October, David Acres unveiled a new experimental Counterpoint Choir vocal line-up. The number of voices was reduced. Eight women sang with twelve men. All the women sang soprano, with four each of counter-tenors, tenors and basses.
In the bass section was the new Musical Director of Buckfast Abbey, Philip Arkwright. The countertenors and sopranos were joined respectively by John McElliot and Judith Overcash of Quire Cleveland. John and Judith invited David Acres to sing alto in their choir during a UK tour earlier in 2013. David then invited them to join Counterpoint for the evening of Purcell songs. David has now joined the Cathedral Choir and Chamber Choir at Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland Ohio, and has become a regular member of Quire Cleveland.
The special guest for the evening was James Bowman, who not only sang astoundingly beautiful solo works by Purcell, but also joined the choir as an additional countertenor voice and occasional soloist - not to mention some very lovely ensemble singing with selected choir members.
The evening began without pre-amble. The opening song was one written by the 23 year old Purcell for the coronation of James II to augment Handel's Music for the Coronation of George II. No explanation of the music was necessary. As usual, David Acres had provided full historical details in the programme notes.
The words of Psalm 122, "I was glad when they said unto me, 'we will go into the house of the Lord'" demonstrated the full potential of the new Counterpoint structure. Every voice was strong and individually audible, and the overall sound perfectly balanced. For the closing words, "As it was in the beginning ...", the powerful and mature sound of Edward Woodhouse's tenor voice made itself known - a voice which would return to the fore several times during the evening.
The choir then slipped back in time a couple of years, to Purcell's arrival at Westminster Abbey, aged 21. Remember not, Lord, our offences takes the words of Thomas Cranmer and enhances this appeal for clemency with a delightful musical setting. The additional soprano voice introduced by Purcell seemed to be taken up by the countertenors, including James Bowman. The high tenor voices broke through impressively with "Neither take thou vengeance of our sins." The choir's amazing ability to sustain each note in consort was then demonstrated by the words, "but spare us good Lord ..."
Then followed something much more intricate. The choir members changed places for Purcell's Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, written for his later work Evening Service in G minor. Emma Perona-Wright and Judith Overcash now took on separate soprano lines, while James Bowman and Anselm Carr-Jones led the respective countertenor parts.
Matthew Cann and Julian Rippon, two men used to singing on opposite sides of the Cathedral Choir, divided the bass parts between them. Suddenly only three voices were active. James Bowman joined Julian and Ed for a gentle trio. Then there were two - as Emma and Judith sang in duet. The interplay between the singers was fascinating to watch as the choir took over, before making way for the micro-choir to sing once more. At the very end, Matt Cann's bass voice augmented the doxology, repeating the assertion of divine presence, "is now," three times before, "and ever shall be, world without end." The final, "Amen" got special treatment from the male voice trio of Julian, Edward and James.
The next item was, surprisingly, not by Henry Purcell. The words of John Donne's A Hymn to God the Father is a piece which was set to music by Purcell's predecessor Pelham Humfrey. Although Humfrey died (aged 27) when Purcell was 15, Purcell was greatly influenced by his work. The Hymn is a solo song for countertenor, and an opportunity for James Bowman to demonstrate his vocal skill. Accompanied by David Davies playing the organ, he sang with his usual volume and precision.
Just before the interval the choir added a coda to the concert they performed to start the year (The Life and Times of Mary I, 9 Feb 2013). James II was succeeded by his daughter Mary II - Mary I's first cousin (four times removed). Mary II and Henry Purcell were contemporaries. When Mary died, Henry Purcell composed the music for her funeral. The same music was used for Purcell's own funeral only a year later. The opening march involves drums and trumpets - an arrangement that Counterpoint performed about eight years ago. This time, however, the trumpets and other instruments were provided by David Davies playing the Buckfast Abbey organ, and the words were sung a cappella. Initially a male voice trio stood forward to sing, "Man is born of woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery." Three new voices had their chance to shine. Countertenor Anselm Carr-Jones was joined by tenor Michael Graham and bass Philip Arkwright. For the telling line, "In the midst of life we are in death," a fourth angelic voice filled the Abbey with sweet sadness - soprano Josie Walledge. David Acres was using the vocal skills of the choir members to the full.
After the interval several other voice combinations were introduced. For the setting of Psalm 119, Thy word is a lantern unto my feet, [in the trio verse sections] James Bowman [was joined by] the tenor and bass Michael Graham and Matt Cann respectively.
In anticipation of St Cecilia's day, which was four weeks away, David Acres had prepared the choir in Purcell's Jubilate in D major (written just before Purcell died). This very complicated choral work was set about once again by David Davies' 'trumpets' from the organ. The first voice was that of James Bowman, "O be joyful in the Lord all ye lands." Later James was joined by soprano Judith Overcash in a beautiful duet, "We are his people and the sheep of his pasture."
Next an uncompleted fragment from Purcell's first years at Westminster. Hear my prayer O Lord from Psalm 102 was a chance to hear a new and different duet, sopranos Elle Williams and Denise Kehoe.
Michael Graham and Julian Rippon collaborated in another, very much completed, work from the same period. Jehova quam multi sunt hostes mei?(Jehovah, how many are my enemies?). Michael pronounced the immortal words, "At tu, Jehova, clypeus es circa me" (But you, Jehovah, are a shield around me), while Julian replied with, "Voce mea ad Jehovam clamanti, respondit mihi e monte sanctitatis suae maxime" (As my voice cried to Jehovah, he answered from the mountain of his holiness).
An evening of Purcell with James Bowman would not be complete without hearing James sing An Evening Hymn, the song with which he closed his farewell performance at Wigmore Hall in 2011. James also sang this song at the ceremony to confer on him the 'Fellowship of the Royal School of Church Music' at Exeter Cathedral the following year. On that occasion he was accompanied by David Davies playing a chamber organ. With David Davies accompanying on the Buckfast Abbey organ, James gave yet another delightful solo performance of this moving and evocative chaconne.
Finally the choir accompanied James Bowman in another trio performance. This time he was joined by the Abbey Musical Director, Philip Arkwright, singing bass and the tenor voice of Edward Woodhouse.
With David Davies playing a perfect continuo the evening ended with the rousing Rejoice in the Lord. Those opening words also serve as the final climactic crescendo. An unforgettable ending.
In its various permutations, the new Counterpoint line-up has lived up to expectations. It was sad not to see or hear several familiar choir members. However, the exquisite results David Acres was able to achieve with just eighteen voices, fully justified the change in approach. Less really can be more! (edited version of review and photos by Luch Càise-Dearg Classical Journey)
Your decision to reduce the size of the choir came as quite a shock when we first read the news in the summer. I might have know you would know exactly what you were doing! Last night's concert in Buckfast Abbey was stunning. The music was an eye-opener to my wife and I.
We knew several of Purcell's verse anthems and the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis but the entire programme was a revelation! I have heard about the Funeral Sentences but have never listened to them. The depth of emotion and feeling you brought out of the choir was, at times, so intense. I lost my Mother last year and I found the piece so poignant and passionate that I welled up and the tears fell from my eyes.
What can we say about James that I haven't already told you before. I know he is 72 in a few weeks time, but his showmanship and the way he puts a piece over is as riveting as it has always been. I saw him in St John's, Smith Square in London in the early 1980s and he sang the Evening Hymn and also the Pelham Humphrey work and I would say that, for me, time stood still! He was as good last night as he was that night, nigh on 30 years ago. The man is a legend!
We can't wait for the next concert. (Andrew Prosser)
An absolutely lovely evening, I loved the concert. James was singing with beauty in fact all the choir were. I was challenged by the weather but was rewarded for my efforts. So glad to be there. Thanking you from my heart and soul. (Eileen Furgerson)
Thank you so much for the "real thing" tonight; another fabulous concert and of course sublime singing from James Bowman, especially the Evening Hymn, which will certainly live long in the memory. (Nigel Dutt)
I have not heard quality of singing at this level for many years. I am a retired tenor now but I have been involved with choral singing for over 55 years and I was bowled over by the sheer beauty and delivery of all the pieces.
Your programme notes were, once again, so important to what we were seeing and listening to - bravo!
For me, the way the words of each piece were brought to life through the music, this was the true quality of the singing. The Funeral Sentences took on a new meaning for me; Hear my Prayer had a wonderfully controlled crescendo that literally rocked me back in my seat; the perky Jubilate was a sheer delight - and what a find you have in Judith Overcash - pure and with no trace of histrionics!
As for Mr Bowman, what else is there for me to say about him. I remember well his early days with David Munrow's singers in the early 1970s and what a career he has had. That he is still singing with such power and love of his craft is true testament to his genius. I was quite emotionally overcome as he sang the Pelham Humfrey Hymn to God the Fatherwith such passion.
Truly a night to remember. (Richard Stephenson)
Judith Overcash Acres & James Bowman
Sopranos & Countertenors
Tenors & James
Man is born of woman...
All showing their enjoyment
Saturday 6th July 2013
Divertimento string ensemble
The annual Counterpoint Bursary Concert for Girl and Boy Choristers at Exeter Cathedral
Morten Lauridsen – O nata lux
Eric Whitacre – Lux aurumque
Ola Gjeilo – Sanctus
Karl Jenkins – Palladio (Divertimento)
Morten Lauridsen – O magnum mysterium
Graham Keitch – In Memoriam – Ricardus Rex
Arvo Pärt – Psalom (Divertimento)
Ola Gjeilo – Sunrise Mass for Strings and Choir
i. The Spheres (Kyrie)
ii. Sunrise (Gloria)
iii. The City (Credo)
iv. Identity and The Ground (Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei)
The scene was set and the capacity audience waited in anticipation; we had come to witness the last concert featuring Counterpoint, in the format that we have come to expect over the last 25 years.
David Acres, the founder and director of the choir has decided to pursue a more active singing role in his musical life and this was the last ‘big’ concert for this outstanding Devon-based choir.
David told me that his biggest musical influence has been James Bowman and after a chance meeting some 12 years ago a bond and a musical appreciation between the two men evolved. ‘James will be 72 later this year’, David told me, ‘and he is as fervent and committed to his performing now as he was some 50 years ago. ‘It made me realise’, he continued, ‘that I had not been singing as much as I would have liked to and that I should stop turning down the opportunities to travel and sing the music that I love so much and try and balance my two passions’.
The first half of the concert included several favourites with the choir’s audience and as the rich passionate tones of Morton Lauridsen’s O nata lux pervaded the cool interior of this beautiful Abbey, one could almost feel the audience relaxing into their seats as Counterpoint’s hushed tones started to build to the inevitable climactic crescendos that would fill the church with the glorious sound that they alone seem capable of.
Eric Whitaker’s Lux aurumque followed, with its glittering radiance, again interpreted with Counterpoint’s inimitable style, followed by a sonorous Sanctus from Ola Gjeilo.
Divertimento then performed Palladio by Karl Jenkins and one could see the toes tapping and the heads nodding as Brenda Willoughby led her players through this infectious and jaunty composition.
Counterpoint then returned to sing Morton Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium and we were instantly transported to another plane.
These a cappella works illustrate the very essence of the choir: gently whispered phrases that build and then explode into clear, ringing, earth-shattering chords that hang for an eternity in the astonishing acoustic of Buckfast Abbey.
A short interval became a long interval, due to the warm summer’s evening and the heavily scented gardens surrounding the building which enticed the audience away from the West Doors. The second half began with a new work by a local composer, Graham Keitch, entitled In Memoriam - Ricardus Rex. Graham lives on Dartmoor and sings in St Michael & All Angels in Exeter and has written many choral pieces. In Memoriam… was composed in memory of Richard III and suited the acoustics of the Abbey ideally. There were gorgeously sustained phrases, some of them tantalisingly unresolved, and the work slotted into the evening’s programme with ease.
Then followed Arvo Pärt’s lugubrious string piece, Psalom, which meandered around never seeming to decide where it was heading – albeit beautifully played by Divertimento! This was followed by the main work of the night, Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass. Kyrie ("The Spheres") opens with long held chords alternating between the divided choirs, accompanied by the strings, creating a sonorous, false-relation infused marrying of sounds that was intoxicating to hear. This lead to a strong declamatory motif that rang out passionately, proclaiming the text, "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison". The pure tone of the sopranos start the Gloria (Sunrise) with a memorable theme that leads to a hauntingly catchy tune that is then taken up by the whole choir.
The Credo ("The City") started with a stirring, shifting rhythm in the string parts which is then taken up by the tenors and basses. After a slower middle section, the shifting rhythms return with more urgency and the choir and string players were on scintillating form. The last movement, which includes the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei("Identity" and"The Ground"), initially sees a return to the opening bars of the Kyrie and those glorious suspended chords, which then resolve into an unforgettable tune that evokes open plains and azure blue skies. A truly memorable night of music-making – you should have been there! (text and photo from a review written by Mile Bennet, Classical Journey 10.7.13.)
What a wonderful evening - we're still on a high from an overdose of Lauridsen, Gjeilo and Whitacre. Gorgeous music sung with such spirit and passion. (Maurice Peters)
I know you're returning to your roots of renaissance and medieval music with the choir but please continue to perform the music of Lauridsen and Whitacre, it is so good to hear new modern composers we would otherwise have missed. Ola Gjeilo was a welcome discovery and my wife and I loved his Sanctus and the combination of the strings and choir in the Sunrise Mass which was thrilling. (Neville Barber)
We just love you singing Lauridsen and Whitcare - and now Gjeilo. You brought these composers to our attention in the past and this is one of the great things about the choir that we really hope will continue. (Tim and Ann Francis)
Just one word 'Fabulous'! Well ,a few more then! As always, we love your choir and the music they sing and the obvious joy and passion that they show. The emotion you draw out of them is quite overwhelming at times. (Peter Tancock)
Friday 10th May 2013
Fauré – Requiem
and works by
Gounod, Pergolesi, Mozart and Busto
Jef le Penven (French choir from Quimper in Brittany)
Counterpoint were delighted to sing again with their good friends from France!
Saturday 9th February 2013
The Life and Times of Queen Mary I (1516–1558)
Counterpoint performed music by composers alive during the reign of the Queen:
William Cornysh (1465–1523) – Ave Maria, Mater dei
William Cornysh (1465–1523) – Ah Robyn, gentle Robyn
Heinrich Isaac (1445–c.1517) – Virgo prudentissima
Nicholas Gombert (1495–1556) – Lugebat David Absalon
Christobal de Morales (1500–1553) – Peccantem me quotidie
Jacobus Clemens non Papa (1510–1555) – Ego flos campi a 7
Robert Parsons (1530–1571) – Ave Maria
Robert Whyte (1538–1574) – Regina coeli
Rodrigo de Ceballos (1525–1571) – Gloria from Missa tertii toni
Thomas Tallis (c.1505–1585) – Loquebantur variis linguis
Francisco Guerrero (1528–1599) – O Domine Jesu Christe
Hernando Franco (1532–1585) – Christus factus est
John Sheppard (c.1515–1558) – In pace, in idipsum
Thomas Tallis (c.1505–1585) – O Nata Lux
Did anyone not know what was happening at Buckfast Abbey this Saturday?
David Acres' Counterpoint were at the Abbey for a celebration of The Life and Times of Queen Mary I, illustrated by music she would have known.
While Saturday's audience waited for the concert to begin, they were able to read in their programmes a detailed analysis of Mary's life written by David Acres - plus details of all the composers and the circumstances in which each piece of music was written.
Armed with that information, the listener was then able to become fully immersed in the culture and sounds of Mary's life (1516-58). An extraordinary period of history, coloured by the magnificent music of the time.
The concert opened with just a few voices - ringing out from the Chancel of the Abbey. First there as an Ave Maria by William Cornysh (already in circulation when Mary was born) for male voices only. Then Counterpoint countertenor, Frazier McDiarmid, was joined by countertenor Peter Oakley, a choral scholar from King's College Chapel, for Cornysh's lament Ah Robyn, Gentle Robyn. Peter is familiar with the choir, being a former member of Counterpoint and Exeter Cathedral Choir, but showed incredible ability by taking on the second countertenor rôle with only a day's notice.
For most of the concert the whole choir were at the front of the nave, singing directly to the audience. The combination of sounds was glorious as always. Unlike many choirs, Counterpoint has plenty of men. Five of the eight altos were countertenors. There were eight basses, including Julian Rippon, Michael Vian Clark and Charles Hughes (who has two parts in the forthcoming Pirates of Penzance at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter). There were only six tenors, but an impressive set of voices - including Jason Bomford, Michael Graham, and Edward Woodhouse (who joined Janet Macdonald's Opera Gala at Sidholme last Sunday).
There were an incredible fourteen sopranos - even though Ann Draisey couldn't make it. Josie Walledge was prominent at the left hand end of the stage and, at the far right, regular contralto Rachel Mitchell had also joined the sopranos.
The combination of sounds is astounding, and David Acres leads everything beautifully. It is hard to keep track of all the wonderful musical sounds that are being combined and interwoven, and almost overwhelming for the uninitiated.
Occasionally a single voice would lead into a song. (Excellent tenor openings by Ed Woodhouse and Michael Graham - very brave and stunningly competent.)
Occasionally David reduced the choir to less than half its full size - making the individual voices shine out, but by no means reducing the quality of the sound.
Many of the songs were in Latin, evoking the church atmosphere of the reign of Henry VIII (and later Mary herself). David had provided very handy parallel translations in the programme notes, for those who like to know what the words mean. For others it was enough to understand the gist and let the music do the rest.
The most beautiful of all? - Lugebat David Absalon, by Nicholas Gombert, which was reminiscent of Counterpoint's In Memoriam concert on 11th February 2012 which reproduced the programme of the funeral of Prince Henry, son of James I. On that occasion there were two songs recounting King David's grief at the death of his son Absalom - composed by Robert Ramsay and Thomas Weelkes, nearly half a century after Mary died. This Saturday's earlier version was, if anything, even more beautiful and moving. The latin text was very clear, especially with the help of David Acres' translation in the programme notes.
The evening of aural enchantment and fascinating historical insights ended with one unscheduled song to return the Abbey to its sacred function. Once more the music was something that would have been familiar to the young Mary Tudor - O Nata Lux by Thomas Tallis.
A very satisfying evening all round - everyone left uplifted, and supremely grateful to David Acres and his rightly celebrated Counterpoint. (text and photos edited from a review written by Luch Càise-Dearg, Classical Journey 9.2.13.)