Tuesday 30 April 2013

Matthew Cann's 'Antiphon' Choir at Buckfast Abbey Giovanni da Palestrina's 'Missa Papae Marcelli' Saturday 20 April 2013

line-up for Saturday 20th April 2013
Soprano: Emma Perona-Wright, Catherine LukeDaisy Walford
Alto: Juliet CurnowDavid Acres, Jonathan Woodhouse
Tenor: George PooleyMark Hounsell, Tom Castle            
Bass: Charles HughesPhilip Webb, Andrew Mahon       

Antiphon remembered:

A sixteen voice line-up for Howell's Requiem

Saturday 10th Nove
mber 2012

here to see a fabulous video!)
It is now nearly six months since baritone Matt Cann brought together singers from choirs around the country for an 'Antiphon' concert - a special programme for Remembrance Sunday, featuring the hauntingly beautiful 'Requiem' by Herbert Howells.

The Requiem was composed in 1932. Howells withheld the score following his son's death (age 9) from polio in 1935. Parts were used in Howells 'Hymnus Paradisi', which was first performed at Gloucester Cathedral in 1950. Matt's father Richard was in choir on that historic occasion. Matt sang (treble!) in the original requiem, when it was published in 1980 - shortly before Howells died.

In the picture above you can see the amazing combination of voices that Matt had brought together for last year's performance of the Requiem. With Daisy Walford are three wonderful sopranos - Josie Walledge, Catherine Luke and Rachel Mitchell. Behind them, Edward Woodhouse can be seen in the tenor section. Beside alto David Acres is Exeter Cathedral Events Coordinator and Exeter/Exmouth/Wellington Choral Society Director, Lawrence Blyth. Just out of shot is Ed Woodhouse's brother Jonathan adding another counter-tenor voice. Behind David Acres is the Buckfast Abbey Director of Music, Michael Vian Clark, singing bass.

Matthew Cann
with his new-look twelve voice 'Antiphon'
20th April 2013
For 2103 Matt reconvened a new Antiphon. He slimmed down each section to just three voices - and introduced some new and very exciting singers to the group.

Daisy Walford and Catherine Luke were joined by another singer from Gloucestershire - soprano Emma Perona-Wright  from Cheltenham (Company Secretary, Charity Correspondent and Supporter Administrator of the Serlo Consort.)

Returning from her new home in Stroud, mezzo soprano Juliet Curnow joined the choir as an outstanding third alto with David Acres and Jonathan Woodhouse.

Alto Juliet Curnow
returns from Stroud
There was an all new tenor team, Mark Hounsell from Wells, and Tom Castle from Bristol (formerly Exeter Cathedral Choir - and brother of Harry, who we hear in 'Counterpoint' and 'Leofric') were joined by a very special guest. George Pooley of 'The Sixteen' must have had special dispensation from Harry Christophers to come and sing for us in Devon. Just to remind ourselves of that glorious voice, we can listen to The Sixteen, with George, singing Allegri's 'Miserere' on their latest Hyperion recording.

Bass Andrew Mahon
Wells vicar choral
In the bass section was a member of the original Antiphon Choir, Philip Webb. (Apparently Philip is not related to the tenor David Webb, who regularly joins Lawrence Blyth for his Choral Society concerts - e.g. Nelson Mass, Creation . . .  but watch this space, in case that needs to be corrected!). Philip was joined by two very high profile singers. Charles Hughes is the son of soprano Margaret Aagasen-Hughes (see May 2011) and a very well-known local musician. He is currently at Exeter University and conducted the orchestra in the Uni G&S Soc's production of 'Patience' in March last year. Last, but by no means least, the bass section was joined by Canadian bass-baritone, and Wells Cathedral 'vicar choral', Andrew Mahon.

Alto David Acres
created the programme
The first thing that the audience saw when they arrived at the Abbey was the skilfully crafted concert programme featuring the, now familiar, cover image of stained glass - which looks like it might be the window of the Buckfast Lady Chapel, but isn't.

Each song was listed with a full history of the composer and work, and the full text with translation if necessary. Truly a labour of love - and invaluable during the concert, to fully appreciate the subtle wording and historical significance of each piece.

Matt conducts Antiphon
just visible in the back row:
George Pooley, Charles Hughes,

Tom Castle, Andrew Mahon
The first voice heard was baritone Charles Hughes. "Haec dies quam fecit Dominus" opened the plainsong setting of Psalm 118, "This is the day which the Lord has made". As the other voices joined in the wonders of a twelve voice choir became apparent. Although beautifully harmonised, each voice could be clearly heard - but only just. Delicious phrases rose to the surface like gentle waves, first alto, then perhaps tenor, soprano - or bass, before blending once again into the whole.

Emma Perona-Wright
a very special soprano
Four voices made themselves known as time went on. Juliet Curnow's familiar melting mezzo soprano contrasted with the male altos and the higher sopranos. Emma Perona-Wright sang subtle and naturally complementary duets with Juliet at times. George Pooley was commendably reserved in the tenor section, just visible - and audible - behind the sopranos. In the bass section Andrew Mahon was a sensational presence. With a deep tan and magnificent black beard, he looked every inch a star. His penetrating bass voice would not have seemed out of place in a mighty Russian male voice choir (or singing the part of Mephistopheles in 'The Damnation of Faust' as Richard Cann suggested!)

Mary, Mary, and Salome
Convento di San Marco Florence

Fresco: Giovanni da Fiesole 1442

The choice of music was faultless, exploring and expressing the musical ideas of renaissance Europe. Many familiar composers featured. John Taverner's "Dum transisset Sabbatum" ("And when the Sabbath was past") continued the Easter theme with the story from the Mark Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Salome bringing spices to the tomb. Thomas Tallis' "Sancte Deus" ("Holy God") reworks the Catholic prayer for holy week in four voices. Orlando Gibbons' "O Clap your Hands" comes from Psalm 47, a song of celebration for the sons of Korah. William Blitheman was a less familiar sixteenth century writer. Antiphon sang his compline responsary, "In Pace" ("In Peace") - a restful song of sleep (or death) taken from the fourth Psalm. John Sheppard's "Libera Nos" ("Free Us") was particularly apt - the compline antiphon to the Trinity - in seven voices, interestingly split between twelve singers.

"As the apple tree among the trees of the wood,
so is my beloved among the sons.
I sat down under his shadow with great delight,
and his fruit was sweet to my taste."
Song of Solomon Chapter 2
Woodcut: Hans Holbein II 1498-1543
Two relatively modern compositions slipped in. From the early twentieth century Matt had selected Edward Bairstow's "I sat down under his shadow with great delight" taken from the 'Song of Solomon'. From the late twentieth came two songs by William Harris - "Faire is the Heaven" in the first half and "Bring us, O Lord God" ("at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven") in the second. Although Harris' music is modern, the words are from the sixteenth century - Edmund Spenser and John Donne respectively.

The big event of the evening, divided between the first and second half of the concert, was the 'Missa Papae Marcelli' by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. This was simply magnificent. From the Kyrie to the Agnus Dei, all six sections were sung faultlessly. Every possible permutation of those twelve talented voices was pressed into service. The resulting sound seemed timeless - and endless. What a pity it had to end eventually.

Once again Antiphon and conductor Matthew Cann exceeded expectations with an exceptional evening of choral music. With a combination of great music, clever use of voices, skilled direction and, of course, masterful singing, the Antiphon choir transformed the already beautiful setting of Buckfast Abbey into a haven of auditory delight.

Antiphon regular
Daisy Walford
Visiting tenor
Tom Castle
- and countertenor
Jonathan Woodhouse
Modestly in the background
Tenor from Harry Christophers' "Sixteen"
George Pooley

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