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" & "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!