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of our 2011 concerts!
Celebration Concert Tour, Brittany
Concert at Notre-Dame des Carmes
Concert at Notre-Dame de Locmaria
Mass at Notre-Dame des Carmes
Counterpoint enchants its public
True to form, the vocal group Counterpoint gave a magnificent concert on Saturday night at the church of Locmaria to a group of connoisseurs!
20 years since David Acres' singers first came at Toussaint to present their superb polyphonic music. 20 years also of friendship with Serge Duigou, his wife Annick (there at the beginning of this musical exchange) and a good number of Quimper singers. What is to be admired in the first instance about Counterpoint is the beauty of the voices, the infinite sense of nuance, the colours, the harmonies. David Acres leads his singers down diverse polyphonic routes. To emphasise this, he chooses his programme carefully. He usually mixes up the periods, showing that whenever an Eric Whitacre enters the scene (b. 1970), or a John Tavener (b. 1944) or a Thomas Tallis (b. 1505) the process is the same.
Counterpoint offers us a logical programme in which the musical works seem to complement each other naturally. Therein lies the power and indeed the charm of listening to Counterpoint.
The beauty of the music
Certainly, we almost know by heart the beautiful Sleep by Eric Whitacre, presented in 2007, in 2009 and again this Saturday. But it enchanted us once more. Tavener's Funeral Ikos, which Jef le Penven included in its repertoire after listening to Counterpoint singing it, was once more a huge success. The same goes for the extremely moving Lux Aeternaof Elgar which concluded the programme. The direction of David Acres was equally supple, equally musical - the voices, the harmonies , always beautiful, always subtle. As for the emotion, this was evident more than ever on listening to these singers from Exeter! (Review from Le Telegramme, 2 Nov 2011)
... works of art where the word becomes music and the music grips the heart ... the poignant majesty of the moment surpasses the simple religious message and embodies the human quest for emotion ... voices of incredible accuracy (newspaper Ouest France)
Saturday 15th October 2011
An evening of rich polyphony and lute songs
Lassus - Timor et tremor
Lauridsen - O nata lux
Skempton - Ave virgo sanctissima
Plainchant - Salve Regina (James Bowman)
Farrant - Hide not thou thy face (James Bowman)
Campion - Never weather-beaten sail (James Bowman)
Purcell - Fairest Isle (James Bowman)
Whitacre - Lux arumque
Tavener - Funeral Ikos
Matthew Cann - I am the true vine (premiere performance of a piece written for Counterpoint)
de Rore - Parce mihi
Tallis - O nata lux (James Bowman)
Ballett - Sweet was the song (James Bowman)
Dowland - I saw my lady weep (James Bowman)
Gibbons - Drop, drop slow tears (James Bowman)
Whitacre - Sleep
Jackson - The Lord's Prayer
Kiev Melody - Kontakion
Elgar (arr. Cameron) - Lux Aeterna (Nimrod)
James Bowman - what more is there to be said? I understand that he is 70 in November and this seems crazy. His singing and the way in which he illustrates the songs seems undimmed after 50 plus years of singing. We all loved his version of O nata lux by Tallis and of course the Gibbons Drop, drop slow tears, which was exquisite. I do wish we could have a recording of this concert. (Merryn Tasker) (You will be pleased to hear that James and Dorothy have recorded a programme of music that includes both these pieces and also several others from the concert and the CD will be available from the beginning of December 2011 - David)
Dorothy Linell's Lute 'whispered' with great power(!) around the hallowed walls of Buckfast Abbey and James Bowman's rich and pure tone combined to create another superb evening of music-making at Buckfast Abbey. I particularly liked the opening solo of James's when he sung the plainchant Salve Regina from underneath the Tower - it was a spine-tingling moment. (Ray Pearte)
An Amazing Concert of Modern and Renaissance Music at Buckfast Abbey Saturday 15 October.
What a special night for the Counterpoint Choir at Buckfast Abbey on Saturday night. We were possibly seing one of the last appearances here by the great counter-tenor James Bowman. (James' performance of counter-tenor and harpsichord songs by Handel, Purcell etc. at Wigmore Hall in May was his final London performance.) We also heard the very first performance of a new choral work, I am the True Vine, by a local composer, Matthew Cann, who also sang in the choir as a bass.
A very exciting additional feature on the programme was the lute playing of Dorothy Linell, who accompanied James Bowman in a series of renaissance English songs - a little concert within a concert.
James and Dorothy complemented each other perfectly, and James' voice was as soft and beautiful as ever. The sweet, and surprisingly audible, sound of Dorothy's lute introduced James' singing, which he began from the back of the quire, before walking forward to stand by Dorothy and sing - magnificently.
Every song, whether sung by the choir or by James Bowman, was unalloyed bliss. Most moving - and most tragic - was John Tavener's Funeral Ikos, a tender song for the dead which moved many to tears. The tenor and bass opening led into a gorgeous division into two bass lines which then came together - before dividing again - heavenly. The chorus of Alleluia from the sopranos took things to an even higher level of etherial excellence.
After the interval, conductor David Acres split the choir in a new way. He formed up two mini-choirs to sing two lines each in Matthew Cann's I am the True Vine. What a magnificent choral work that is. The opening lines of the fifteenth chapter of the Christian St John Gospel, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman," continuing, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you."
The last words of the piece are the same as the first - "I am the true vine" - with the final word "vine" held and overlaid by the words, "says the Lord" with the last word held for a further bar on an exquisite top A. The soloist, who sang that ending so perfectly on Saturday, was Denise Kehoe.
The judiciously selected words, carefully constructed harmonies, and sublime singing, remind us of the positive potential of sincere faith. Historically, music like Matthew's has always represented the perfect conflation of music and religious faith.
'I am the True Vine' by itself was a masterpiece which served as a focus for a supremely inspiring recital. However, Matthew Cann's work was just the beginning of another extraordinary recital of choral music which made up the second half of the concert.
Eric Whitacre's musical arrangement of Charles Anthony Silvestri's poem, Sleep, beautifully and eerily expressed the sentiments of the words, longing for rest but afraid of darkness and nightmares. A very clever piece beautifully sung.
John Bowman and Dorothy Linell gave another mini-concert of renaissance music, including songs by John Dowland, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tallis. An amazing performance. This time the divided choir were able to range themselves around James and Dorothy and enjoy the songs along with the audience.
The real marvel of the whole concert must be the final Lux Aerterna by Sir Edward Elgar. The words of the Mass for the Dead set to the tune of Nimrod from the 1899 Enigma Variations. Nimrod is dedicated to Augustus Jaeger, and the opening music is from Beethoven's Pathetique sonata which Elgar and Jaeger had enjoyed and discussed together.
In eight parts, this choral setting by Elgar is an amazing piece for a choir to sing - and the Counterpoint Choir sang it magnificently - matching, if not excelling, the tenderness and emotion of their performance of Taverner's Funeral Ikos in the first half of the concert.
(review by PhonicFM)
Saturday 25th June 2011
Requiem for James II (1633-1701)
David Davies (organ)
Purcell – I was glad
Gibbons – O clap your hands
Tomkins – O sing unto the Lord
Melgás – Salve Regina
de Grigny – Verbum supernum (organ)
Gibbons – O Lord in the wrath
Ramsey – How are the mighty fallen
Padilla – Circumdederunt me Dolores
Purcell – Hear my prayer O Lord
Blow – My days are gone like a shadow
Charpentier – Messe des Morts
...a return to your roots in the first half of the concert last night was most welcome. I have been coming to hear you sing for nigh on 20 years and whilst I am always appreciative and full of praise for all you bring to the local music scene, it is your interpretation of medieval and renaissance music that inspires me the most. The way in which the different voice parts entwine to create such heart-stopping emotions - surely, there can be nothing better in life than hearing Counterpoint at its most passionate best! (Giles Stoppard)
The first half of the concert last Saturday night was quite simply, perfect! I love the unaccompanied music that you sing and the whole of this part of the programme was filled with little gems. I haven't heard of Melgas before but I thought that the Salve Regina was wonderful. It was also good to hear you singing Charpentier - I have often thought that his Messe de minuit would be an excellent choice for the choir. The soprano duet was quite stunning. (Timothy Rand)
Saturday 9th April 2011
J.S. Bach - St John Passion
Divertimento String Ensemble
The St John Passion on Saturday was a wonderful occasion. Thank you. One didn't want it to end. Every moment was captivating, and the evangelist particularly memorable, with such a beautiful quality and expressiveness in his voice.
By the time we arrived there were no programmes left, but that made one listen very attentively, without one's nose in the text. Better really. I managed to pick up a programme that someone had left on a seat, so read your excellent notes. (Frances Nieduszynska)
I hope you are still wrapped in a cloud of EUPHORIA?! Such was the rapture and acclaim of your enthralled audience and for me the most memorable first experience of attending that sort of complicated but enriching work - truly amazing.
What it must have taken to rehearse it, especially with London based soloists to consider I cannot imagine but every aspect was total bliss and I do hope the orchestra realised how much we appreciated them when there was so much going on all around them!
WELL DONE and please thank everyone for my most stunning introduction to this overwhelming genre of choral work, unforgettable! (Sally Sedgeman)
What can there be left to say? I'm sure you must have been inundated yet again with plaudits after the concert on Saturday which was outstanding in every way. Many, many congratulations, truly, as well as thanks from me for being part of it.
There were some really shiver-making moments and those long silences the soloists made were absolutely heart-stopping because everything else they did was so excellent. It speaks such volumes that you're able to bring such fabulous soloists and instrumentalists to us each time.
My lot in the audience were stunned by the quality and I'm sure I can't be alone in having found it a very spiritual experience. How wonderful that there was a good audience to enjoy it all (Susie Howells - Choir-member)
On Saturday night an Exeter audience enjoyed a very special performance that they had been looking forward to for the past two months. In the perfect setting of Exeter Cathedral, Bach's glorious St John Passion, performed by the Counterpoint Choir and Divertimento Orchestra, was everything we expected - thrilling, emotional and beautiful.
The opening chorus is always an amazing experience and the choir gave a magnificent performance. After the deceptively gentle opening by Brenda Willoughby's Divertimento ensemble, the opening line exploded with all the intense emotion of Bach's fervent belief in Christian redemption. "Herr unser Herrscher, dessen Ruhm in allen Landen herrlich ist!" ("Lord, our Master, whose glory is unsurpassed in all the world!") Rings in the ears as it is repeated over and over, voice after voice coming in an almost endless fugue. But then it does eventually wind to a natural close - only to begin again from the beginning to amazing effect. The opening chorus alone was utterly breathtaking.
After a perfect opening the narrative was taken up by the incredibly expressive tenor voice of Christopher Watson. Although the other soloists stood to the front or on staging (even in the pulpit) to sing, Chris sat with the orchestra and stood unobtrusively to sing the words of the St John Gospel. His German was superb and every word crystal clear. Even we lesser mortals, who struggled with school German, could follow him easily. What made this performance doubly impressive was that Chris travelled across country to perform the equally challenging, and totally different, St Matthew Passion the very next night!
Each aria and chorus was as intensely beautiful as the last. Soprano Mary Bevan took the familiar "Ich folge dir gleichfals mit freudigen Schritten" ("I follow you likewise with joyful steps") to new heights, with celestial flute accompaniment by Melanie Orriss. Greg Tassell initially had only a short line as a 'servant' and it seemed that this would be his only contribution. Not at all! Greg's aria, opening the second half of the performance, was a beautiful demonstration of his youthful tenor voice. Bass Stuart Young, as Christ, was wonderfully restrained, imperious and humble in just the right proportions. He also had a wonderful aria just before the interval - with the delightful addition of very accomplished 'cello pizzicato. And, as we have to come to expect at Counterpoint performances, there was an incredible counter-tenor aria - this time by Jonathan Peter Kenny, a very moving moment.
As each recitative and aria gave way to the chorus, the Counterpoint choir swept everyone up in the emotion of their singing. It was hard to tell whether they or the audience were more affected. The chorus of rejection, "Kreuzige ihn!" ("Crucify him!"), was as intense as a pistol shot - and almost as devastating! As with the opening, the last words were left to the Chorus: "Herr Jusu Christ, erhore mich, ich will dich preisen ewiglich!" ("Lord Jesus Christ, hear me, I shall praise you eternally!")
Two months after their wonderful collection of works by Thomas Tallis and William Byrd at Buckfast Abbey on 12 February, Counterpoint have taken music in Devon yet further, bringing their delightful singing talent to the musical genius and spiritual extremes of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Many thanks to all concerned, in particular Brenda Willoughby and the Divertimento ensemble, and especially to the founder and conductor of the Counterpoint choir, David Acres. (Luch Càise-Dearg - abridged form of review. www.phonic-fm)
Saturday 12th February 2011
Tallis is dead and music dies
David Davies (organ)
Tallis - O sacrum convivium
Tallis - Loquebantur variis linguis
Tallis - O nata lux
Tallis - Salvator mundi I
Tallis - Clarifica me Pater (organ)
Tallis - Ecce tempus idoneum (organ)
Tallis - The Lamentations of Jeremiah I
Tallis - Videte miraculum
Byrd - Haec Dies
Byrd - Ne irascaris Domine
Byrd - Sing joyfully
Byrd - Ave Verum
Byrd - Clarifica me Pater (i), (ii) and (iii) (organ)
Byrd - Kyrie and Gloria from 3-part Mass
Byrd - Sanctus and Benedictus from 4-part Mass
Byrd - Agnus Dei from 5-part Mass
Byrd - Ye sacred muses
Psalm 130 - Out of the deep (De profundis)
Funeral Sentences from Book of Common Prayer, 1559 (spoken)
On Saturday night a vast audience converged on Buckfast Abbey in Buckfastleigh, many from considerably further afield than Exeter. The attraction? The long awaited return of David Acres' baroque choral group Counterpoint. The name hints not only at counterpoint, the feature of baroque music involving overlaying very different melodies, but also the beautiful and emotion laden countertenor voice so perfectly suited to the acoustics of ecclesiastic architecture.
As well as a wealth of a capella vocal music by Thomas Tallis and William Byrd from the choir, David Davies, Organist and Director of the St Peter's Singers at Exeter Cathedral, gave several solo performances on the Buckfast Abbey organ. A great setting and great music - magical! (Luch Càise-Dearg - www.phonic-fm)
Saturday at Buckfast was an unqualified success. The fact that each item was accompanied by lack of applause, both in the first and second parts was very acceptable and I think that the sequence of movements of the Byrd masses in the order in which they were performed was also an inspired presentation. Your programme notes, as usual, demands that one arrives early to have time to read and digest them, with a further read at leisure after the event!
The acoustics at Buckfast are excellent for this type of music and I thought that the short 'monastic' finish to the whole programme provided a fitting ending.
No wonder I come down from Gloucester with regularity to enjoy what you provide. (Richard Cann)
We were transported to another time and another place on Saturday evening. The depth of emotion and textural colour that the choir brings to everything they sing is simply divine. We adore renaissance music and the evening's programme was pure heaven.
The blend of voices is exquisite: we were seated half-way back in the main body of the church and the way in which the choir's volume lifted and fell back was almost too emotional to bear. We listen to a lot of choral music and nothing comes even close to a Counterpoint concert when it comes to the depths of emotion and the dovetailing of the four main voice parts - sopranos, altos, tenors and basses.
I always ask you if you will record your concerts and you say that you prefer the music to be ephemeral: 'you need to be there', you tell me! Well, this has obviously sunk in with your audience as we can't remember there being so many people there on a Saturday night - it must have been a sell-out!
The Tallis Lamentations I and the Videte miraculum were magical and the part reconstruction of Tallis's funeral at the end was a master-stroke.
We have already bought our tickets for your performance of Bach's St John Passionand I am anticipating the marvellous opening chorus with unbridled anticipation as I write! (Nicholas Sholto-Douglas)
It was a pure joy to hear Counterpoint performing music as they used to over 18 years ago, when I first came to hear you.
I first started singing Tallis and Byrd (If ye love me and Ave verum) over 50 years ago in Leeds and the beauty and style of writing has stayed with me through my life and remains a great source of support and pleasure to my hectic lifestyle! I knew some of the works and there were also new pieces for me to discover and enjoy.
The tenors and basses in your choir are just perfection, with great rolling depths of passion and fervour. The sopranos and countertenors weave around the texture creating an enchanting and awesome tapestry of sound.
Counterpoint once again delivered and we went home transported and uplifted to another plain. Thank you, thank you, thank you! (Mary Bearson)
...Thank you so much for the wonderful concert last Saturday. The whole programme was stunning from start to finish and I have never heard such a good adult choir; the soprano line was seamless - we couldn't pick out a single voice! And many thanks for the great programme notes too! We both learned so much and have re-read them since. (Maggie Hughes)
...How do you do it? I seem to say this after every concert with boring regularity(!) but I leave the church in such a state of euphoria, which doesn't diminish for several days after. I know you have a very good range of voices and I know that most of them are very adept musically - I see several of them frequently with other ensembles and choirs - but you extract a nuance and emotion from the singers that leaves me elated and satisfied in a way that no other choir is able to; and that includes The Sixteen who I heard in London last December!
It's how you extract the emotion from your choir that I cherish so much. The timeless, hypnotic performance of Tallis's Videte miraculum epitomises this: the rising and falling crescendos and decrescendos; the spot-on speeds and changes in tempo. I felt transported to another place and time.
Nothing gives me greater satisfaction musically than when I sit 4-5 rows back in Buckfast Abbey and soak up the offerings from your wonderful choir. Bravo! (Simon Haliwell)
Choral Music from Medieval to Modern