Monday, 24 October 2011

David Acres' Counterpoint Choir and Counter-Tenor James Bowman (with Lutenist Dorothy Linell) - An Amazing Concert of Modern and Renaissance Music at Buckfast Abbey Saturday 15 October

A sweet celestial sound:
The Counterpoint Choir
(Soprano Denise Kehoe)

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.

Lutenist Dorothy Linell

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.

In the first half of the concert modern choral works sung by the choir bracketed a superb mini-recital by James and Dorothy:

Counterpoint Choir:
Orlande de Lassus - Timor et tremor (Late 16th century)
Morten Lauridsen - O nata lux (from ‘Lux Aeterna’ 1997)
Howard Skempton - Ave Virgo Sanctissima (from '3 Motets' 2008)

Countertenor Solos by James Bowman:
Plainchant - Salve Regina ('Hail Holy Queen' St Anselm of Lucca 1080)
Richard Farrant - Hide not thou thy face (Late 16th)
Thomas Campion - Never weather-beaten sail (1613)
Henry Purcell/John Dryden - Fairest Isle ('King Arthur' 1691)

Counterpoint Choir:
Eric Whitacre - Lux Aurumque (2009)
John Tavener - Funeral Ikos (1981)

Dorothy Linell accompanies Counter-Tenor James Bowman

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.

David Acres separates the Counterpoint Choir into two . . .

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. (See headline picture above.)

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.

. . . to sing 'I am the True Vine'
composed by Bass, Matthew Cann

'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.

David Acres conducts the Counterpoint Choir

Premiere performance of a piece written for Counterpoint:
Matthew Cann - I am the true vine (John Gospel chapter 15 2011)

Counterpoint Choir:
Cipriano de Rore - Parce mihi (early 16th)

Countertenor Solos by James Bowman:
Thomas Tallis - O nata lux de lumine (1575)
William Ballett/Charles Wood -
Sweet was the song the virgin sung (Lute Book 1600)
John Dowland - I saw my lady weepe
(Second Book of Songes or Ayres, late 16th)
Gibbons/Phineas Fletcher - Drop, drop slow tears
(Poetical Miscellanies 1633)

Counterpoint Choir:
Eric Whitacre – Sleep (2009)
Gabriel Jackson - The Lord’s Prayer (2002)
Kiev Melody: Kontakion for the Departed
(Eastern Orthodox Memorial Service 1800)
(Arranged Hutchings/Translation Birkbeck)
Sir Edward Elgar  - Lux Aeterna (Nimrod, Enigma Variations - 1899)
(Arr John Cameron 1998)

The Counterpoint Choir share the audience's appreciation of their second set
 - Counter-Tenor James Bowman and Lutenist Dorothy Linell

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.

The basses - including Julian Rippon (far left)

Whether you heard the Counterpoint Choir and want to hear more, or missed it and wish you could have been there to enjoy this amazingly high quality choral music, there are several more opportunities coming up to hear magnificent choral music in Devon.

The Reading Phoenix Choir (from Reading naturally) will be performing choral music from the renaissance to the present day at St Peter's Church in Tiverton this Saturday, 29th October, at 7.30pm. Their organist Christopher Enston will not only accompany them in some of their songs (when they aren't singing a capela . . . ) he will also play some organ solos including Charles-Marie Widor's 'Toccata'. Details below. (Regular listeners will remember hearing the Reading choir's performance of Elgar's 'Lux Aeterna' on the last 'Classical Journey'.)

and sopranos

Counterpoint will be out of the UK from 26th October, performing last Saturday's concert programme in Brittany at concerts in Notre Dame des Carmes in Pont-l'Abbé and Notre Dame de Locmaria in Quimper at 8.30pm on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th October respectively. The choir will also sing at Mass at Notre Dame des Carmes in Pont-l'Abbé at 10.30am on Sunday 30th October - quite an itinerary!

The Counterpoint Choir will be back in the UK for a Christmas carol service at Buckfast Abbey at 3pm on Saturday 17th December. No charge, so everyone can come and enjoy the service.

Next year on Saturday 11th February at 7.30pm Counterpoint will perform (by popular request) the 'In Memoriam' to Henry Prince of Wales. Not to be confused with Prince Harry, this son of James I lived at the beginning of the seventeenth century. His memorial includes music by:
Thomas Morley (1558-1602)
Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656)
Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623)
Robert Ramsay (1590-1644)
Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (1590-1664)
Nicolas Gombert (1495-1560)

On Saturdy 19th May 'Counterpoint' will be at Exeter Cathedral to sing Mozart's Requiem - and the whole of Lauridsen's 'Lux Aeterna' (in support of the Cathedral Choristers). What a fabulous concert that will be!

On Saturday 7th July next year 'Counterpoint' will be at Buckfast Abbey to perform a very special 'journey' from the Mediaeval to the Renaissance (third concert in this series) which will take in more than ten composers from the mediaeval world.

On 13th October the choir will sings Handel's 'Chandos Anthems' with the Divertimento Ensemble - and another star appearance by counter-tenor James Bowman.


01392 490398

Reading Phoenix Choir
St Peter's Church Tiverton
Saturday 29 October 7.30pm
Sacred and Secular Choral Music
from 1500 to the present day
Special Guests:
Organist: Christopher Enston
Widor: Toccata in F major
Pipe and Tabor: Didier Garcon
Traditional Music from Provence
Tickets: £10 (advance booking recommended)
contact Sue North 01884 253494

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