By Alan Kozinn, in The New York Times
Fretwork, the British period-instrument ensemble, devoted its Wednesday evening program at Weill Recital Hall to Thomas Mace’s “Musick’s Monument,” an opinionated and often quirky 1676 overview of church music, lute works and pieces for viols. The composers Mace mentions flourished in the first half of the 17th century, and they represented an approach to composition that was being supplanted by the Baroque style: a sorry state of affairs, in Mace’s view. He considered the new music superficial and disdained what he called the “high scoulding” sound of violins. Groups constituted like Fretwork, a quintet that plays viols of different sizes and ranges, were more to his taste. Enlarge This Image
Most of the composers Mace was fond of were English, though his collection documents his fondness for Monteverdi as well, and Fretwork accounted for that with a reading of one of Monteverdi’s madrigals, “Dolcemente dormiva la mia Clori,” in which the spirit and inflection of the original vocal writing came through with remarkable clarity. Much the same could be said of a more somber “In Nomine,” by John Ward, that the group paired with the Monteverdi.
Keeping to Mace’s favored composers made for a quirky set list. You might expect a program of late English Renaissance works to include pieces by Dowland and Byrd, for example, both among Fretwork’s longtime specialties. But Mace apparently did not rate them highly enough to discuss them. But he was fond of William Lawes, who was represented by a pair of appealingly varied Consort Sets, and John Jenkins, who was represented by a group of tuneful, richly harmonized dances.
Several of the works drew on the dark, melancholy spirit that dominated so much late Tudor music. The ensemble’s beautifully balanced, carefully nuanced readings of John Coprario’s “Illicita Cosa” Fantasia and Thomas Lupo’s “Pavan in Three Parts” captured that sensibility deftly.
Fretwork’s use of coloration was subtle rather than broad, which is probably as it should be in this music, and the players’ use of dynamic variations was sparing enough to seem surprising. You had the impression that Mace would have admired the group’s closely matched blend and its focus on the music’s contrapuntal interplay, rather than on whatever effects might have been achieved by tinting individual lines more assertively.
The idea of basing a program on “Musick’s Monument” began with Richard Campbell, a founder of Fretwork who committed suicide last March. The group’s surviving members — Liam Byrne, Asako Morikawa, Reiko Ichise, Richard Tunnicliffe and Richard Boothby — dedicated the concert to his memory.