R E V I E W S
Countertop: Baroque With Added Depth - Washington Post (Joan Reinthaler) Link
The Countertop Quartet has added a mezzo-soprano, two tenors and a bass to its original two-soprano, two-countertenor makeup and recast itself as the Countertop Ensemble. This was a good move. They joined forces with the Washington Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble on Saturday at the Universalist National Memorial Church near Dupont Circle for a program of Venetian music of the early baroque period that was delivered with serious attention to detail.
Director Chris Dudley (one of the countertenors, who conducts as he sings) has collected a group of eight fine singers who blend and balance beautifully and who understand the idiom. In intricate madrigal and motet settings by both Andrea (the uncle) and Giovanni (the nephew) Gabrieli, Adriano Willaert and Heinrich Schuetz, they sang with an easy, straight delivery that kept textures transparent and lines nicely shaped. It was only in the highly elaborate rhythmic modulations of a couple of the madrigals that a firmer hand on the conducting tiller might have kept things smoother.
The "cornett" in the instrumental ensemble bears almost no relation to the modern cornet. Dating from the 15th century, it is slightly bent, usually made of wood with finger holes like a recorder's and a mouthpiece a little like a trumpet's. Played well (as it was, here, by Stanley Curtis) it sounds like an exceptionally clear human voice. Sackbuts (early trombones) also sound lighter and more human than their modern version, and there were times in this concert when the two ensembles complemented each other well. Too often, however, particularly in the Schuetz "Veni Dilecte" for four low voices and sackbuts, the singers ended up wallowing in the instrumental sound.