Owen Rees

Owen Rees is Professor of Music at the University of Oxford, and Fellow in Music and Organist (Director of Music) at the Queen’s College. He directs the Choir of the Queen’s College and Contrapunctus. His work as a conductor has taken him to the Far East, the USA, and across Europe, and he is increasingly busy as a leader of choral workshops. He has broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4, and in several other countries. His CD recordings with Queen’s and other choirs – on the Hyperion, Signum and Avie labels – encompass a wide variety of choral repertory, and have attracted consistently high critical acclaim: BBC Music Magazine recently described his interpretations as ‘revelatory and even visionary’. Owen Rees has brought to the concert hall and recording studio substantial repertories of magnificent Renaissance music, particularly from Portugal, Spain, and England, including many previously unknown or little-known works, and he has been described as ‘one of the most energetic and persuasive voices’ in this field. His work has three times been shortlisted for the Gramophone Early Music Award.

  • Welcome all Wonders: A Christmas Cantata is a large-scale work for choir, organ, and trumpet spanning 15 movements. It celebrates the Christmas story through an imaginative selection and juxtaposition of poetry and liturgical texts, and provides a multifaceted telling of the familiar narrative. The celebratory aspects of Christmas are tainted by darker themes that are inherent to the story but are easily overlooked, culminating in an enlightened and engaging work that explores the Christmas story in a profound manner. The Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford is among the finest and most active university choirs in the UK. Its wide-ranging repertory includes a rich array of Renaissance and Baroque music and contemporary works. An excellent disc: the singing is incredibly tight, in the manner to which it has become increasingly accustomed under its musical director, Owen Rees, and Bednall’s writing is ingenious, embedded in a profound understanding of the workings of the choir and organ- both as distinct entries and as a partnership - Gramophone Magazine Bednall’s work makes a bright, immediate impression, the idiom, accessible without being superficial - BBC Music Magazine An original and very rewarding addition to the Christmas choral repertoire - MusicWeb International Bednall is honoured with what is surely a splendid performance from the Choir of Queen’s College, Oxford with organists Olivia Clark and Paul Manley and trumpeter Simon Desbruslais, directed by Owen Rees - International Record Review
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Signum’s second disc with the Choir of the Queen’s College Oxford is centred around the concept of ‘relevation’, both divine revelation (particularly the apocalyptic visions of the Book of Revelation) and revelatory visions of earth and heaven. The bulk of the pieces on the recording are inspired by the extraordinary visions of John, the writer of the Book of Revelation, describing the ravaging of the world through divine judgement, the battles between good and evil, and the world’s eventual remaking as ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ in which death and suffering are no more. The disc features three new commissions, by Phillip Cooke, Toby Young and Marco Galvani, who was a final-year student at Queen’s at the time of recording.
  • The Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford celebrate the works of choral music icon Herbert Howells in a disc that sets his works alongside pieces that they inspired and influenced – such as Nico Muhly’s Like as the Hart for choir, solo violin and percussion – as well as works that in turn influenced him. The disc features two world premiere recordings by David Bednall: settings of two Marian antiphons Alma redemptoris mater and Ave regina caelorum that ‘complete’ the partly-lost set of works that Howells wrote for Westminster Cathedral.

    Led by their director Owen Rees, the Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford is among the finest and most active university choirs in the UK. Its wide-ranging repertory includes a rich array of music from Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces to contemporary works, including commissions.

    ★ A distinguished disc - Choir and Organ

    An excellent disc: the singing is incredibly tight, in the manner to which it has become increasingly accustomed under its musical director, Owen Rees, and Bednall’s writing is ingenious Gramophone

    This is a welcome disc of some lesser-known repertoire - Cathedral Music Magazine A well planned collection of British sacred musicMusic Web International
  • 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
  • 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.
  • A Ceremony of Carols

    £8.00£14.00
    The juxtaposition of old and new which lies at the heart of much Christmas music lends this recording by the mixed-voice Choir of The Queen’s College Oxford its theme. The repertoire ranges in period from Hildegard of Bingen to pieces composed during the last few years. The central work – Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols – vividly encapsulates the intersection of ancient and modern, setting medieval and Renaissance texts, and drawing on plainchant as musical inspiration, while – in its series of fresh, vivid, and sharply-etched miniatures – eschewing the sentimentality which had become attached to Christmas and its music. Three centuries earlier, such combinations of old and new were just as apparent in the vast Christmas output of Michael Praetorius, the principal Lutheran composer of his age. Through works ranging from dramatic double-choir settings to the simplest harmonisations of chorales, this recording explores Praetorius as transmitter of older Christmas texts and and melodies. The links between Praetorius’s time and ours are represented in the pairing of Praetorius’s Es ist ein Ros entsprungen and David Blackwell’s exquisite reimagining of the same carol, Lo how a rose e’er blooming. An Advent chant forms the basis of Judith Weir’s haunting Look down ye heavens from above which opens the recording, while Cecilia McDowall’s Now may we singen perfectly captures the exuberance of its medieval text and Jonathan Dove’s The Three Kings evokes the strangeness of Dorothy L. Sayers’s transformation of the story of the Magi.   All downloads include booklets
  • 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.
Go to Top