Saturday 26 October
Amid exciting developments, The Counterpoint Choir go from strength to strength.
On Saturday 26 October this year, David Acres was at Buckfast Abbey to conduct the first performance by a new, 18-voice, Counterpoint line-up - in an evening of music by "The Remarkable Mr Henry Purcell". The special guest for the evening was operatic countertenor, James Bowman. (Full details below.)
Since then, David Acres has taken up new and exciting responsibilities - in Cleveland, Ohio. In the snow-clad splendour of the Lake Erie shoreline, David will be teaching, singing and touring the states until early next year. Meanwhile the Counterpoint Choir continue to create beautiful music on this side of the Atlantic.
This Sunday evening (24 November) Jonathan Peter Kenny conducted Counterpoint and the Cathedral Choir and Isca Voices and the English Touring Opera soloists and the Old Street Band in Handel's "Music for Vespers".
As well as being conductor of the ETO and Old Street Band (for example, in Handel's "Agrippina" on Friday and Saturday this week at the Northcott Theatre), Jonathan is also a former countertenor singer with David's Counterpoint Choir. Jonathan knows the drill for Counterpoint's Vespers. He was in the chorus for the "Dixit Dominus" with soloists James Bowman and Mary Bevan at the concert "Handel in Italy" (Buckfast Abbey Saturday 16 October 2010).
Next Year, Kit Perona-Wright will conduct Counterpoint in the rescheduled "Life & Works of Thomas Tallis" at Buckfast Abbey on Saturday 15 February 2014. Kit is also a former member of Counterpoint. He sang as a tenor under David Acres before moving to Bexhill to become Master of Music. He now lives in Cheltenham, and is the Musical Director of the Serlo Consort.
David Acres will be back to conduct "The Glories of Spanish Polyphony" - which has swapped places with the Tallis concert, and will be at Buckfast Abbey on Saturday 24 May 2014. This will give David several months to fully rehearse the choir in the sixteenth century music of Guerrero, Peñalosa, Esquivel, Morales, Vivanco, the Portugese composer Duarte Lobo and Castilian choral creative master Tomás Luis de Victoria.
THE REMARKABLE MR HENRY PURCELL
|Organist: David Davies
In the bass section was the new Musical Director of Buckfast Abbey, Philip Arkwright. The countertenors and sopranos were joined respectively by John McElliot and Judith Overcash of 'Quire Cleveland'.
John and Judith invited David Acres to sing alto in their choir during a recent UK tour. David was so impressed by the experience that he invited them to join Counterpoint for the evening of Purcell songs. (David has since joined the Cathedral Choir, and Chamber Choir, at Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland OH, and has become a regular member of Quire Cleveland.)
|On the sidelines
- but voice front and centre
Tenor: Edward Woodhouse
(right: Michael Graham)
The evening began without pre-amble. The opening song was one written by the 23 year old Purcell for the coronation of James II to augment Handel's 'Music for the Coronation of George II'. No explanation of the music was necessary. As usual, David Acres had provided full historical details in the programme notes.
The words of Psalm 122, "I was glad when they said unto me, 'we will go into the house of the Lord'" demonstrated the full potential of the new Counterpoint structure. Every voice was strong and individually audible, and the overall sound perfectly balanced.
For the closing words, "As it was in the beginning . . .", the powerful and mature sound of Edward Woodhouse's tenor voice made itself known - a voice which would return to the fore several times during the evening.
|Sweet soprano voices:
& Denise Kehoe
The additional soprano voice introduced by Purcell seemed to be taken up by the countertenors, including James Bowman, and probably David himself from the rostrum. The high tenor voices broke through impressively with "Neither take thou vengeance of our sins." The choir's amazing ability to sustain each note in consort was then demonstrated by the words, "but spare us good Lord . . . "
Then followed something much more intricate. The choir members changed places for Purcell's Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, written for his later work 'Evening Service in G minor'
|Blistering bass solo
Suddenly only three voices were active. James Bowman joined Julian and Ed for a gentle trio. Then there were two - as Emma and Judith sang in duet. The interplay between the singers was fascinating to watch as the choir took over, before making way for the micro-choir to sing once more.
At the very end Matt Cann's bass voice augmented the doxology, repeating the assertion of divine presence, "is now," three times before, "and ever shall be, world without end." The final, "Amen" got special treatment from the male voice trio of Julian, Edward and James.
Special Guest Soloist
The next item was, surprisingly, not by Henry Purcell. The words of John Donne's "A Hymne to God the Father" is a piece which was set to music by Purcell's predecessor Pelham Humfrey. Although Humfrey died (aged 27) when Purcell was 15, Purcell was greatly influenced by his work.
The Hymn is a solo song for countertenor, and an opportunity for James Bowman to demonstrate his vocal skill. Accompanied by David Davies playing the organ, he sang with his usual volume and precision. (A performance which was well worth the price of admission in itself!)
Just before the interval the choir added a coda to the concert they performed to start the year
("The Life and Times of Mary I", 9 Feb 2013: details & review).
|Male voice trio
Tenor: Michael Graham
Bass: Philip Arkwright
Mary II and Henry Purcell were contemporaries. (Purcell was three years older.) When Mary died, aged only 32, it was Henry Purcell who composed the music for her funeral. The same music was used for Purcell's own funeral only a year later.
| . . . becomes a quartet
Soprano: Josie Walledge
Initially a male voice trio stood forward to sing, "Man is born of woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery." Three new voices had their chance to shine. Countertenor Anselm Carr-Jones was joined by tenor Michael Graham and bass Philip Arkwright. For the telling line, "In the midst of life we are in death," a fourth angelic voice filled the Abbey with sweet sadness - soprano Josie Walledge. David Acres was using the vocal skills of the choir members to the full.
After the interval several other voice combinations were introduced. For the setting of Psalm 119, "Thy word is a lantern unto my feet," James Bowman reproduced his 1993 performance with tenor Charles Daniels and bass Michael George, recorded with the Choir of the King's Consort ("Henry Purcell, The Complete Anthems and Services, Volume 3": Hyperion - audio). This time the tenor and bass were Michael Graham and Matt Cann respectively.
Soprano: Judith Overcash
Alto: James Bowman
Next an uncompleted fragment from Purcell's first years at Westminster. "Hear my prayer o Lord" from Psalm 102 was a chance to hear a new and different duet, sopranos Elle Williams and Denise Kehoe.
Michael Graham and Julian Rippon collaborated in another, very much completed, work from the same period. "Jehova quam multi sunt hostes mei?" (Jehovah, how many are my enemies?). Michael pronounced the immortal words, "At tu, Jehova, clypeus es circa me" (But you, Jehovah, are a shield around me), while Julian replied with, "Voce mea ad Jehovam clamanti, respondit mihi e monte sanctitatis suae maxime" (As my voice cried to Jehovah, he answered from the mountain of his holiness).
|A unique combination
Bass: Philip Arkwright
Tenor: Ed Woodhouse
With David Davies accompanying on the Buckfast Abbey organ, James gave yet another delightful solo performance of this moving and evocative chaconne. (listen)
Finally the choir accompanied James Bowman in another trio performance. This time he was joined by the Abbey Musical Director, Philip Arkwright, singing bass and the tenor voice of Edward Woodhouse.
With David Davies playing a perfect continuo the evening ended with the rousind "Rejoice in the Lord" (and again I say rejoice!) Those opening words also serve as the final climactic crescendo. An unforgettable ending.
In its various permutations, the new Counterpoint line-up has lived up to expectations. It was sad not to see or hear several familiar choir members. However, the exquisite results David Acres was able to achieve with just eighteen voices, fully justified the change in approach. Less really can be more!
Watch this space for further news of this week's Handel Vespers, not to mention choral music by Thomas Tallis, and 'The Glories of Spanish Polyphony' next year - all performed by the unique 'Counterpoint Choir'.
|Musical Director David Acres joins
the Counterpoint Choir in applauding
James Bowman & David Acres