Contrapunctus

Coupling powerful interpretations with path-breaking scholarship, Contrapunctus presents music by the best known composers as well as unfamiliar masterpieces. The group’s repertoire is drawn from England, the Low Countries, Spain, Portugal and Germany, particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The scholarly facet of the group’s work – including the discovery of long-lost music and reconstructions of original performing contexts – allows audiences to experience the first performances of many works in modern times. Since its foundation in 2010, the group has appeared in the AMUZ Festival in Antwerp, the Utrecht Early Music Festival, the Festival van Vlaanderen in Mechelen, the Eboræ Musica Festival and Setu?bal Festival in Portugal, the concert series at De Bijloke in Ghent, and the Martin Randall Festival of Spanish Music (Seville Cathedral). The ensemble’s debut recording, Libera nos, was shortlisted for the Gramophone Early Music Award 2014. As Vocal Consort in Residence at the University of Oxford, the group is a collaborator in the Tudor Partbooks Project, the aim of which is to study the Baldwin partbooks and other sets of Tudor partbooks, to restore the missing voice parts of the repertories they contain, and to broaden public knowledge of this repertory.

www.contrapunctus.org.uk

  • Following its nomination for a Gramophone Early Music Award in 2014, Contrapunctus releases an album of motets from the Baldwin Tudor partbooks, on the theme of mortality.  Conducted by Owen Rees, the album includes Sheppard’s epic Media vita and works by Byrd, Parsons, Mundy, Teverner, Gerarde and Tallis, with Contrapunctus’s own reconstructions of the missing tenor parts. ★★★★★ Contrapunctus really knows what to do with these pieces and from the very first item the tuning is superb and the ensemble rock solid. Moreover, Owen Rees’s interpretations are revelatory and even visionary - BBC Music Magazine ★★★★ Whether you listen in Lenten penitence or in general hope of spiritual balm, the message is universal, the singing superb - The Observer Rees’s choir brings an intensity of sound and dramatic dynamics, in music that contemplates the pain of death in ecstatic elation and sublime devotion - The Sunday Times The undeniable jewel in the crown of this selection is Sheppard’s magisterial setting of Media vita … Contrapunctus is the ideal group for this superb repertoire, and I look forward with eager anticipation to future CDs in this series - Early Music Review There’s lovely balance and clarity of sound from as fine a clutch of voices - Choir & Organ
  • Coupling powerful interpretations with path-breaking scholarship, the choir Contrapunctus presents music by the best-known composers as well as unfamiliar masterpieces. Directed by Owen Rees, a specialist in music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the group presents imaginative programmes revealing previously undiscovered musical treasures and throwing new light on familiar works. This recording explores the musical ‘cries of the oppressed’ from opposite ends of Europe, which include some of the most powerful works composed in England and Portugal during this period by Byrd, Tallis, Monte and Cardoso. The highlight perhaps is the first recording of a newly reconstructed vocal work by Thomas Tallis, Libera nos. This has long been thought to be an instrumental work, and has been recorded as such, but there’s persuasive historical evidence for us to be confident that this is in fact a choral setting of the antiphon Libera nos, and it is performed here with the relevant text restored to the five vocal parts. A rich seam of material by such as Tallis, Byrd and Cardoso - The Independent Exemplary... Pristine performances by Owen Rees’s Contrapunctus choir - The Times Experience and vocal excellence merge in the singing of Contrapunctus to produce performances extraordinary even by the British vocal group’s own high standards - Sinfini
  • There was a craze for the music of Josquin Desprez in sixteenth-century Spain. All three of the greatest Spanish composers of the age – Morales, Guerrero, and Victoria – were directly inspired by one particular rhetorical effect developed by Josquin: ostinato, the repetition throughout a piece of a musical motto. This album explores Josquin’s legacy as manifest in the motets of Morales, Guerrero, and Victoria, and in Victoria’s great six-voice Missa Gaudeamus. In the hands of such composers the use of ostinato produces results that are dynamic, compelling, and striking in expressive impact. These work show the Spanish composers not just emulating Josquin but also competing to out do him in inventiveness.   All downloads include booklets.
  • Owen Rees leads early-music consort Contrapunctus alongside The Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford in performances of John Taverner’s masterwork, the Missa Gloria tibi trinitas. A virtuosic work, it has pride of place in the Forrest-Heyther partbooks (in the Bodleian Library in Oxford), which it has been variously argued originated at Cardinal College or at the Chapel Royal. It might well have been heard on Trinity Sunday in the chapel of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s palace at Hampton Court. The work is accompanied by other sacred choral works by Taverner, including his Ave Maria composed for Wolsey’s Cardinal College, Oxford, and one of his most widely copied works, Gaude plurimum – a dramatic work where Taverner exploits the power of his full forces to evoke Christ’s harrowing of hell and the breaking of ‘the bloody powers of the prince of eternal death.’ Contrapunctus is an early-music vocal ensemble dedicated to passionate interpretations informed by authoritative insight and understanding. Directed by Owen Rees, a specialist in music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the group presents imaginative programmes revealing previously undiscovered musical treasures and throwing new light on familiar works. Performance ★★★★ Recording ★★★★★ Rees brings together both of his crack ensembles [and] the 40-strong collective recreates [Taverner's] lavish sound - BBC Music Magazine ★★★★★ 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 - Classical Source ★★★★★ [A] thrilling new recording - Planet Hugill 9/10 Between them the music of John Taverner comes alive and whether your interest is in Tudor polyphony of acappella choral singing this release will bring much pleasure - Cross Rhythms This glorious programme of polyphony by John Taverner offers much opportunity for contrast as delicate, sinuous passages of vocal chamber music open up into densely populated choral vistas - Choir & Organ The full ensemble brings an undeniable grandeur - Gramophone A must for early music devotees - The Northern Echo A very fine album - MusicWeb International Beautifully recorded by Signum, this is a novel and beautiful Tudor choral release - AllMusic
  • Contrapunctus concludes its exploration of the music preserved in John Baldwin’s partbooks with a third album dedicated to this remarkable treasure house of English sacred music, the richest single source of Tudor polyphony to survive. This third recording opens a window on a striking aspect of the history of the English motet, and one that has been neglected: the penchant in England for setting Latin psalms as motets, the so-called ‘psalm motet’. These texts offered rich opportunity for vivid musical response, given their nature as personal and impassioned addresses to God, and led to Richard Sampson – Dean of the English Chapel Royal under Henry VIII – describing the psalms as ‘the sweetest songs’. The principal English composers born between the 1510s and the 1530s all contributed to this genre of motet, but to a significant extent this fascinating repertory has lain in obscurity and remains unfamiliar to modern audiences. More than half of the works on this album are premiere recordings, and they include such glorious motets as Robert White’s Domine, non est exaltatum, William Mundy’s Memor esto verbi tui, and John Sheppard’s Confitebor tibi Domine. Contrapunctus’s trademark combination of ground-breaking scholarship and performances that are ‘revelatory and even visionary’ (BBC Music Magazine) here brings to light and to life some of the finest musical survivals of the Tudor age.
  • Early music consort Contrapunctus return to disc on Signum for the second release in their series centred on music of the Baldwin Partbooks (In the Midst of Life, SIGCD408). John Baldwin was a member of the choir of St George’s chapel, Windsor, and his transcriptions during the 1570s and 80s create one of the greatest surviving collections of Marian polyphony, composed during the reigns of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor. This volume explores texts celebrating Mary as mother of God, and on the Virgin and her Child.
    Contrapunctus, led by Owen Rees, couple powerful interpretations with pioneering scholarship. Currently Vocal Consort in Residence at Oxford University, the ensemble’s first two recordings, Libera nos and In the Midst of Life, were both shortlisted for the Gramophone Early Music Award.