Don’t start playing this disc at the beginning. Skip straight to track 3 and Gibbons’s first In nomine a 5, and listen to the blanched brilliance, the glistening cobweb delicacy of tone from Fretwork’s viols. If something feels unfamiliar, electric almost in its charge, then it’s down to the tuning, which puts the consort up to the perilous heights of A466 for this recording – a ‘perfectly likely tuning’ for this repertoire, according to a booklet note by the album’s artistic director William Hunt. The effect, in the three In nomines recorded here, is of uncanny beauty, familiar notes polished up to a new sheen and lustre.
This innovation alone makes ‘In Chains of Gold’, an album of Orlando Gibbons’s consort anthems (Vol 1 of a planned set), worth investigating. Whether you’ll choose to return quite as often to the anthems themselves is another matter. Fretwork are joined here not only by His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts – lending some burnished colours and glowing contrapuntal detail to ‘Great King of Gods’, ‘O all true faithful hearts’ and ‘Lord, grant grace’ – but also by Peter Harvey’s Magdalena Consort.
This ensemble matches Fretwork’s authentic tuning with intimate forces, whose upper voices include not only trebles and means but also contratenors, taking lines more usually sung now by altos. But among such few voices any blots are keenly evident, and the now acid-toned and lumpy tenor of Charles Daniels blurts out too often for comfort. His solos in ‘Behold, thou hast made my days’ and ‘Great King of Gods’ lurch in and out of focus, distorting the clarity and shape of Gibbons’s lovely lines. It’s a tendency that proves catching, and while there are some fine moments (especially from the basses), these anthems lack the character and sustained beauty of rival recordings.
When Francis Drake set sail in 1577 to circumnavigate the globe, he took with him four violists and sundry other musicians. Their job was chiefly diplomatic – demonstrating power, skill, friendship and Christianity to the nations they visited, and playing the songs, dances and hymns of home to maintain the morale of their own crew along the way. The voyage was recorded (very imperfectly) by Drake’s nephew in a book, The World Encompassed, and it’s this account that forms the basis of Orlando Gough’s brilliantly uncategorisable project for the viol consort Fretwork.
Richard Morrison in The Times today (26/5/17) has reviewed our latest release on Signum Classics, officially released at our Wigmore Hall concert with Simon Callow on 23rd June. And he's given it 5 stars.
Morisson says: "Like most Gough projects, this one treads a fine line between eccentricity and madness, but I loved it. And how exciting to hear viols playing virtuosic new music..."
The full review is here:
Fretwork have been shortlisted for a Royal Philharmonic Society award in the 'Chamber Music & Song' category. It's already a huge honour! The winner will be announced at the RPS Award ceremony on 9th May at The Brewery in the City of London.
Read more here:
Martin PEERSON A Treatie of Humane Love: Mottects or Grave Chamber Music I Fagiolini; Fretwork; James Johnstone (organ) Regent REGCD 497 72:53 mins
This premiere recording of Martin Peerson’s A Treatie of Humane Love (1630) is a deliciously serious foray into the soundscape of early Stuart intellectual and musical society. Peerson’s engaging settings of Sir Fulke Greville's lyric poetry explore the multifaceted nature of profane and sacred love. The rich complexity of the imagery in Greville’s Caelica, at times bewildering and unashamedly difficult, finds beauty and even whimsy within Peerson’s melodic compass. The importance of the collection, context and content requires some historical unpacking, which is beautifully executed by editor Richard Rastall and scholar Gavin Alexander - but the music stands alone and this a standout performance. Read More...
One fondly remembers all the wonderful discs that Fretwork recorded for Virgin in the 1990s, when it was the path-breaking viol consort that grew out of authentic thinking at that time. Finally, here was a sizeable compendium of English viola da gamba compositions from the likes of John Bull, William Byrd, William Lawes, Matthew Locke, Orlando Gibbons and Henry Purcell, all gathered together for one to enjoy in scholarly inspired form. Moreover, these were presented in such beautifully transparent and feeling lines, often allowing us to enter a suspended, ethereal world that we had seldom realized before. Even following the group through their intriguing explorations of Bach for Harmonia Mundi later on, it still remains difficult to believe that Fretwork is undertaking their 30th Anniversary Tour this year. Yet, so it is: this was their 11th stop on their travelogue of the Americas, which apparently went as far south as Columbia, as evidenced by their fully indigenous dance encore at the end. The concert’s central focus on In Nomine settings took us back to the group’s initial interests, and I think it was a more apt choice than their originally-planned ‘Fires of London’ programme. This experience was also enhanced significantly by the inclusion of related modern works by Nico Muhly (2015) and Gavin Bryars, the latter’s poetic settings finding a telling spiritual resonance when combining the viols with a children’s choir.
One of the fascinating, entirely coincidental, strands running through the 2015 Vale of Glamorgan Festival is a sense of how strongly – and how exquisitely – the old can resonate within the new. I don’t mean by the deliberate referencing of older styles, say, á la neo-classicism, or by a simple nostalgia for music of the past – although examples of both can no doubt be found amongst the many diverse pieces on offer this year. Rather, I’m talking about something which arises from deep yearning, and which can be heard in different ways in the music of the two featured composers, Arvo Pärt and Dobrinka Tabakova: that is, the search for an underlying or innermost creative source which ultimately transcends ideas of ‘old’ and ‘new’.