Gramophone May 2021 : CD The Sweetest Songs
…All the pieces on this recital are psalm motets. They round off Contrapunctus’s three-part exploration of the Baldwin Partbooks in fine style….
The programming alone would warrant a strong recommendation but it’s more than matched by Contrapunctus’s advocacy. They are in cracking form here, with no discernible weak link in the ensemble : honey-toned and purposeful sopranos, assertive countertenors and everything on down to match. Owen Rees‘s direction is sharp and incisive : his reading of the Parsons, for example, makes the most of exeptionally engaging piece. Technical security, that fabled ‘Rolls-Royce quality’, is the English choral tradition’s calling card ; you get it here as well, but Rees really encourages the singers to respond to all the different affects that this accomplished recital offers. Fabrice Fitch – Review in full
Stretto 21/02/2021 : CD’s “Music from the Baldwin Partbooks I, II & III”, door Contrapunctus o.l.v. Owen Rees, op het label Signum Classics. Magistraal!
Het Label “Signum Classics” gaf 3 cd’s uit met Engelse Tudor muziek van o.a. Byrd, Tallis, Taverner en Sheppard door “Contrapunctus”, een a capella ensemble (“Early music consort”) van tien zangers o.l.v. Owen Rees. Het zijn opnamen van Latijnse polyfonie uit de “Baldwin Stemboeken”, een bloemlezing samengesteld in de jaren 1570. Hemels mooi.
…Dit prachtig repertoire heeft de tand des tijds gelukkig overleefd in collecties als de “Baldwin Partbooks”, de Baldwin stemboeken.Owen Rees, de dirigent van “Contrapunctus”, is hoogleraar musicologie aan de Universiteit van Oxford. Zijn interpretatie en waar nodig de wederopbouw van deze muziek, zijn bijgevolg optimaal.
…Deze goddelijke klankwereld, onvoorstelbaar mooi, op deze cd’s, magistraal gezongen door “Contrapunctus”, evoceert de indrukwekkende muzikale pracht van de pre-Reformatorische Kerk in Engeland. Hoewel deze muziek oorspronkelijk enkel uitgevoerd werd door knapen (“choirboys”) en mannen, is deze uitvoering door een gemengde bezetting toch ook subliem! Meteen aanschaffen.
Michel Dutrieu - Artikel
Musicweb-international February 2021: CD The Sweetest Songs
- Music From the Baldwin Partbooks III
It’s Contrapunctus at their best again. With only eleven singers listed in the booklet (and often using far fewer), they conjure up a phenomenally beautiful sound picture that evokes a lost world of Renaissance spirituality and soaring ecclesiastical architecture, the lines of polyphony cascading over one another like the levels of a waterfall. Glorious harmonies combine with exquisite precision to produce music that is artistically and spiritually delectable, and the beauty of Signum’s recording in the Oxford acoustic plays its part, too. Owen Rees directs the singers with clean sensibility and a fluid sense of line.…, this music is like balm for the soul, and it sounds sensationally good in the way these artists have brought it to life. Simon Thompson – Review in full
MusicWeb International June 2020 : CD Salve Salve Salve – Josquin’s Spanish Legacy
…This is a most instructive production, which helps the listener to understand and appreciate an important compositional procedure, supported by informative liner-notes. However, this is more than
a musicological exposé: this is very fine collection of pieces, which document the brilliance of renaissance polyphony and some of its best representatives. The singing is of the highest level: beautiful voices, a full command of legato and an optimum transparency, which allows the listener to note the ostinato motif. JV - Review in full
Early Music reviews 1/04/2020 : CD Contrapunctus: Salve, Salve, Salve - Josquin’s Spanish Legacy
…The musical focus of the disc is Victoria’s powerful six-voice Missa Gaudeamus, here performed complete. It is based on the motet Jubliate Deo omnis terra by Morales, …
The singing us exceptional, the clarity of the vocal lines carrying through the attractive acoustic of St Michael and All Angels, Oxford, a much larger and more resonant space than The Queen’s College Chapel. Contrapunctus sing with considerable vigour and power, entirely appropriate to the celebratory nature of the music, without ever sounding forced. Owen Rees brings an impressive sensitivity to his direction that allows the music to speak with its own voice. Andrew Benson-Wilson – Review in full
Gramophone April 2020 : Salve, Salve, Salve: Josquin's Spanish Legacy
… This superb new recording from Owen Rees and Contrapunctus charts a key way in which Josquin’s influence continued to mushroom after his own prolific career by exploring ostinato technique through motets by Morales and Guerrero alongside the broad and statuesque Missa Gaudeamus of Victoria.… Contrapunctus typically tend towards an overall bright, light style with a prominent and expressive alto core which can be both searing and thrilling at points of heightened emotion. In the Spanish repertoire their sound is fuller and a little warmer than on previous releases – indeed, with such a thrilling focus from countertenors Rory McCleery and Matthew Venner that this ensemble mirrors the vocal balance found on early discs by The Sixteen. The tenors, too, enjoy expressive moments in the spotlight, particularly in Morales’s motet, where the rising and repeating motto is theirs. This same rising motto is found in the top voices of Victoria’s Missa Gaudeamus, an elongated, arching phrase which Rees links to Josquin’s language. Edward Breen – Review in full
CrossRhythms.co.uk 8/02/2020 : Contrapunctus, Owen Rees - Salve, Salve, Salve: Josquin's Spanish Legacy
Before saying anything about the music on this disc, which is somewhat specialised, I want to sing the praises of the chamber choir Contrapunctus. As was said in Gramophone magazine in 2015, they give us "the intimacy of The Cardinall's Musick, the rich glowing tone of The Sixteen and the textual drama of Stile Antico." In other words, they are good. Very good. … The Musical Director of Contrapunctus is Owen Rees, an internationally recognised scholar of Renaissance music, particularly from the Iberian Peninsula. … The singing, a cappella throughout, is of the highest standard, and the content is very listenable, even more so if we take the trouble to read the liner notes that gives sufficient information to help anyone understand and appreciate what is going on. Even as background music this will appeal to listeners who enjoy chant and Renaissance polyphony and those ready to go deeper will find Owen Rees and Contrapunctus helpful and congenial guides. Steven Whitehead – Review in full
Planethugill.com 5/02/2020 : Bringing the music to vibrant life: Owen Rees & Contrapunctus explore the enthusiasm for Josquin's music in 16th century Spain
…The surprising influence of Josquin on 16th century Spanish composers is explored by Contrapunctus who bring what might have been simply an academic exercise to vibrant life.
….under Owen Rees' sympathetic direction the nine or ten young singers of Contrapunctus sing with such vividness and vibrancy that the music lives its own independent life. At times there is a punchy quality to the music making which suits the robustness of this music, yet the singers can also bring things right down whilst keeping that sense of intertwining firm, yet vibrant lines.
We don't really know what Spanish choirs of the 16th century sounded like, and some indeed used falsettists on the top line rather than boys, and for celebratory occasions there would be instruments added. But the trick with this music is to make it live and to make it your own, Rees and Contrapunctus certainly do that. Robert Hugill – Review in full
Diapason Janvier 2020 : CD John Taverner – Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas et motets
…Owen Rees, professeur de musicologie à l’université Oxford, dirige à la fois la maîtrise du Queen’s College (chœur mixte d’une trentaine de voix) et l’ensemble Contrapunctus (une dizaine de chanteurs) qu’il a fondé. Il les réunit ici avec l’ambition de donner à entendre ce à quoi pouvait ressembler l’art de la Royal Chapel au grand complet sous les Tudor, autour d’un chefs-d’oeuvre du temps : une messe vaste et flamboyante de plus de 40 minutes, idéalement adaptée à l’alternance de virtuoses passages solistes (trios ou quatuors) et d’amples tutti à six voix.
…l’alternance de solistes de très haut vol et d’un chœur impeccable produit ici des merveilles, soutenues par un remarquable prise de son. Une splendide réussite de l’art choral anglais à son meilleur. David Fiala
Planethugill.com 20/03/2019 : Thrilling dynamism: Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi trinitas
…For this thrilling new recording of John Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi trinitas, on Signum Classics, Owen Rees conducts the combined forces of Contrapunctus and the Choir of The Queen's College, Oxford.
…The professional singers of Contrapunctus give powerfully focused and finely controlled accounts of the reduced scoring passages, showing a great combination of accuracy and vibrancy, making the music discreetly bravura. And the larger ensemble follows them; despite the number of singers and the lively acoustic of the Church of St Michael and All Angels, Oxford the result is a performance notable for its vibrant dynamism yet with a clarity too. And hearing the contrast between just three voices and the full 40 in full flow is thrilling.
…It might seem strange to call a performance of an early Tudor polyphonic mass thrilling, but this performance certainly is without ever losing and of the sophistication and control necessary for this music. Robert Hugill - Review in full
Classicalsource February 2019: Cd: Owen Rees conducts John Taverner’s Missa Gloria tibi trinitas
…Particularly impressive is the integration of a warmly blended Queen’s College tone with the brightly focused voices of Contrapunctus. The students sound every bit as accomplished as their professional counterparts and the sopranos are having the time of their lives in the rousing final sections of the ‘Gloria’ and the ‘Credo’ where Taverner’s contrapuntal skill is at its most thrilling.
Rees has a natural affinity for this music, whether underlining differences of mood, allowing phrases to bloom or deftly judging cadential arrivals, his touch is instinctive. Taverner’s balance between restraint and vigour, intimacy and invigoration, is mirrored by Rees and his forces who respond in kind, fully entering into the spirit of this sublime music.
As in other recordings, musicianship and pure intonation come as standard, as do clarity and precision, but what makes the difference here is the contrasts of choral weight and consequent drama. Any disappointment arising from one slightly jarring voice is soon erased for the intensity with which Taverner’s long-breathed lines are rendered. There is an unerring rightness about this performance as if the spirit of the composer was hovering near the microphones. David Truslove - Article
Rondomagazine.de 17/06/2017: Virgin and Child (Music From The Baldwin Partbooks II)
..., Das Ensemble zeichnet sich aus durch bestechend saubere Intonation, welche die wichtigste Voraussetzung ist für das „Einrasten“ der Klänge, die sich wegen der erwähnten hohen Soprane hier oft über einen gewaltigen Ambitus hinweg erstrecken. .. So erscheint die herrliche Musik in dieser Darbietung gleichzeitig objektiv und im verträglichen Maße auch subjektiv – gleichzeitig übermenschlich schön und doch auch erfüllt von menschlicher Wärme. Eine hervorragende Interpretationsleistung. Michael Wersin - Article
Gramophone 23/04/2017: Virgin and Child: Music from the Baldwin Partbooks, Vol 2
…The choral sound is distinctive. Astringent countertenors pierce through sweet, rounded sopranos, and the whole is anchored by a wonderful breadth in the basses. With comparatively small numbers there’s greater muscularity here than, say, The Sixteen, which is particularly well suited to the earlier works – the Fayrfax and the austere beauty of Taverner’s Mater Christi. Just occasionally you get a flicker of shrillness in the upper voices in this high-lying repertoire, a glimpse of the furious technical paddling required beneath the surface to keep these lines afloat, but it’s a small quibble. Contrapunctus remain king in a very crowded market place. - Full article
Planet Hugill 14/04/2017 : Virgin and Child: Owen Rees and Contrapunctus continue their exploration of the Baldwin part-books -
Superb musicianship in this survey of the flowering of Tudor polyphony
Rees uses a flexible ensemble which generally varies between eight and 11 singers, singing with a lovely fluency and clarity. The sopranos, particularly in the high soprano lines, have a beautiful elegance and focus to them, keeping the sound light. The ensemble is notable for the blend, but there is a clear ebb and flow to the voices as the textures change and different lines become prominent. The singers perform with a lovely sense of line, and beautiful poise. Occasionally I wonder what the pieces would sound like with a bigger ensemble, but the musicianship of the singers is such that you are never disappointed. This is superb stuff.
This disc is a feast for lovers of Tudor polyphony and thanks to John Baldwin's taste for older music as well as new, we have a lovely range of styles in stunning performances. Robert Hugill - Full article