By Rick Walters, Express Milwaukee
The Saturday evening concert at the Zelazo Center by the London ensemble Fretwork was historical in the truest sense. The program mixed old and new in an engrossing theme:The World Encompassed – Sir Francis Drake. The six-player viol group commissioned composer Orlando Gough to write music related to specific episodes of Drake’s perilous, British imperialist, round-the-world voyage of 1577-1580. Like the journey, the music explored a new world.
Drake had a viol ensemble on board. It sometimes served as peace-making enchantment of the peoples encountered, some who had their own musical traditions. One can only imagine the bewilderment of both Europeans and natives at the sounds. Gough’s pieces were spelled by hymns, sometimes artlessly and charmingly sung by the ensemble, and 15th- and 16th-century British music. Beyond spiritual comfort, the hymns must have been a poignant reminder of home to the sailors so far at sea.
To hear period instruments at Fretwork’s high level of artistry tackle contemporary music was a revelation. Gough’s vivid, captivating score fully explores the musical and technical capabilities of viol playing. I was astonished at the sounds and range of expression from instruments generally thought to be limited in variety.
Early Music Now, presenter of the concert, has done an outstanding job of building a large, loyal audience. I was happy to be sitting among so many who listened so intently.