from the 'Sensory Garden'
David Acres' love of music began when he enrolled at the Cathedral School at the age of seven - and has never abated. In adult life, as a successful professional singer and musical director, David returned to Exeter and sang as a regular member of the Cathedral choir. He also became a member of the Torbay Singers, and the Loosemoor Choir in Buckfastleigh, and eventually became a 'lay vicar' singing counter-tenor at Buckfast Abbey.
In recent years the choir have been joined at Buckfast Abbey by operatic counter-tenor James Bowman. After formally retiring from the stage with his final Wigmore Hall perfromance, James returned to Buckfast Abbey to sing with the Counterpoint Choir again - and again.
|David and Judith Acres|
with James Bowman
|David in Ohio|
(Photo: Judith Overcash)
For the time being, the audience had two glorious hours of music to look forward to. After some deliberation, the concert featured a thrilling and nostalgic selection of pieces, which had been performed by the Counterpoint Choir in the preceding twenty six years. The choir was back up to full strength, with thirty members, including Judith with the sopranos - not to mention James Bowman singing with the choir and solo. To accompany James, counter-tenor Shaun Pirttijarvi doubled as baroque organist.
In a poignant reminder of the commitment of many Counterpoint members to the musical life of the Abbey, and Exeter Cathedral, the choir moved on to Psalm 130 - "Out of the depths I cried unto thee, O Lord". With it's soothing tones, and gentle doxology, this formal piece of liturgy reprised the preceding theme in a beautiful form, perfectly suited to the ecclesiastic atmosphere of the Abbey.
|Thomas Tallis & William Byrd|
The choir took liturgy in a different direction next, with the deeply sad (and angry) rendition of "Ave Maria" written by Sergei Rachmaninov for his 'All Night Vigil' for the fallen soldiers on the Eastern front in 1915. "Богородице Дево" (Hail, O Virgin) is initially ethereal, but then threatening, as the full force of the voices charge the music with emotion.
The mysterious sound of Rachmaninov's Russian lyrics led straight into Morten Lauridsen's 1994 version of the Christmas responses, "O Magnum Mysterium" (O Great Mystery). The devotional words express the transcending delight associated with the mystery of a human mother giving birth to a divine being.
|Matt Cann conducts Antiphon|
(countertenor David Acres, centre)
The first was the highly emotional "Drop, Drop Slow Tears" by Orlando Gibbons, a younger contemporary of Tallis and Byrd who joined the Chapel Royal under James I. Orlando Gibbons died only two years after William Byrd, who lived to be eighty three. Forty years earlier William Byrd had mourned the loss of his mentor Thomas Tallis (who had himself lived to eighty years of age) and composed his famous "Elegy on the Death of Thomas Tallis". As Shaun Pirttijarvi continued his gentle organ accompaniment, James proceeded into the Elegy. With inexorable grace he invoked the sacred muses to come down to earth and join in the lament, "Tallis is dead, and Music dies."
|Sir Edward Elgar|
James Bowman made his final solo appearance, and most lasting impression, with a further two impassioned laments from the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The first was composed by a contemporary of William Byrd at the Chapel Royal, Richard Farrant. As well as providing music for royal ceremonies, Richard Farrant was also a playwright and founder of the Blackfriars Theatre on the site of a Dominican Priory in London as a venue for child actors associated with the Chapel Royal.
"Hide not thou thy face from us, O Lord" is loosely based on the words of Psalm 102, elaborating on its message with an offer to confess all sins, in return for deliverance. James projected just the right air of abject obeisance as he sang these deferential words of entreaty, evoking the religious fervour of the Tudor Royal Court.
(John Closterman 1695)
Unlike Farrant's public display of piety, Purcell's hymn is a more private expression of devotion. The words, "Now that the sun hath veiled his light" refer to settling down for a good night's sleep, rather than anticipating death. (Henry was only twenty nine when the hymn was published.) The hymn is almost a lullaby, culminating in a soporific iteration of the final word, "Hallelujah". It was a very special treat for everyone to hear James perform this delightful piece so sweetly once again.
|Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla|
As a finale to an evening of heart-breaking music of mourning, "Sleep" was just the tranquilliser needed to settle the tortured breast. The gentle ululation of the closing word, 'sleep', repeated hypnotically, and perfectly mirroring the 'Hallelujah' of Purcell's hymn, provided a perfect respite for reflection and nostalgia. What a beautifully thoughtful and well-considered choice of programme by David Acres.
|Just one more . . .|
"Tourdion" translates literally as "The Twist". In this case, however, the sound, and the driving sense of the music, has a more gentle and sensitive feel than the Midnighters' modern version. The minimal sound of the sopranos was like a distant voice calling across time - and from the opposite coast of the English Channel. The continuo was soft and melting, carrying everyone away on a wave of soft murmering magic.
|David applauds the choir|
Particular thanks must go to James Bowman for making a special journey to Devon to sing for us once again. In his introductions David Acres (a counter-tenor himself) was at pains to point out what an illustrious role model James had been for him. Twenty years ago David regularly made a special journey to see and hear James on stage. How amazing to see the two together now, entertaining us with their incomparable music over the past few years.
Go slowly. Come back quickly!
|Together again - David Acres & James Bowman|
(far left - Judith Acres, far right - Mary O'Shea)