The Spitalfields Winter Festival opened at Shoreditch Church with a programme by the combined Fretwork viol consort and Red Byrd vocal group that unexpectedly overlapped in theme with an otherwise starkly contrasting concert by the combined London Sinfonietta and Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble at the Royal Festival Hall. The link was the reclamation of demotic musical material by high art.
At Shoreditch, the items were imaginatively tied together to set off Orlando Gibbons’s remarkable achievement in uniting, in his Cries of London, copious sounds of the street with the recherché polyphony of five-part “In Nomine” writing for viols. Comparable, if less sophisticated, syntheses by Thomas Ravenscroft, William Cobbold and Richard Dering were offered — Dering’s Country Cries showing particularly well how this vivid raw stuff could lend new freedom to word-setting — but it was Gibbons’s genius in bringing together artistic extremes that told. His three freestanding five-part In Nomines for viols were threaded through the programme, and we were treated, too, to a vigorous treble-viol Duo.