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Review CONTRAPUNCTUS
 

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
Performances which restore the contrasts of scale in Taverner's great mass.
…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.
… Rees has around 40 singers at his disposal and key to the performance is the thrilling contrast between the single voices of Contrapunctus and the full combined ensemble of Contrapunctus and the Choir of The Queen's College, Oxford. The result is to give a real sense of drama to the changes in scale in the music, something that can be missing with smaller ensembles.
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

Klassik.com 7/4/2017: Virgin and Child - Music from the Baldwin Partbooks II
Owen Rees und Contrapunctus setzen ihren Streifzug durch die Baldwin Partbooks auf hohem Niveau fort. Eine feine Platte englischen Kontrapunkts. - Echte Könner
… Das Ensemble singt kraftbetont, entschieden, was auch in den abwechselnd eingefügten solistischen Passagen positiv ins Gewicht fällt. Intoniert wird mit entsprechend kräftiger Grundierung, vibrierend, dennoch mit der notwendigen Sensibilität – in jeder Hinsicht eine der großen Stärken des Ensembles..   Dr. Matthias Lange - Ganze Resenzion

AllMusic, September 2013
…At the center of it all stands Byrd, whose imposing, dignified works have rarely received performances of such balance and power. An exceptional Renaissance choral release… - James Manheim

CDHotlist.com October 2013
…Owen Rees and Contrapunctus have created one of the most ravishingly lovely recordings I’ve heard in a year… - Rick Anderson

Gramophone Magazine BBC Radio 3 CD Review September 2013
…Very erudite and engaging…you can't not have a bit of Portuguese polyphony when it's what Owen Rees is so good at…the Byrd on it is sung beautifully....enormously spacious, broad and beautiful. - Caroline Gill

BBC Radio 3 September 2013 : CD Review
…It's a lovely sound, beautifully focused and the intonation's excellent as well...we've both enjoyed that a lot… - Andrew McGregor

The Sunday Times August 2013
...an experience of aching but delicious self-indulgence...an intensification of expression, a sense of deep personal convictions and emotions. These are stunningly beautiful works...The singers shape each piece lovingly. Impeccable…. - Stephen Pettitt

The Observer 4/08/2013 : CD Libera Nos: The Cry of the Oppressed
This debut recording by the clean-voiced and agile Contrapunctus ensemble includes a genuine discovery, perhaps expected when scholar/conductor Owen Rees is in charge….. The choir sings it and works by Byrd, Philippe de Monte, Pedro de Cristo and Martin Peerson with admirable, firm-toned fluidity. More, please. - Stephen Pritchard

Sinfini Music, August 2013 ****
…Owen Rees has devised a profound musical meditation...Experience and vocal excellence erge in the singing of Contrapunctus to produce performances extraordinary even by the British vocal group’s own high standards...immaculate intonation, refined tonal blend and near-perfect ensemble... - Andrew Stewart

The Times, August 2013 ****
...this exemplary disc... Anguished masterpieces are juxtaposed with discoveries, including a convincing new vocal version of Tallis’s (hitherto instrumental) Libera nos. Pristine performances by Owen Rees’s Contrapunctus choir... - Richard Morrison

The New Releases Show, Classic FM, August 2013
Connoisseur's Choice: '…high quality stuff, let me tell you…excellent all the way round… -  David Mellor

 

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