London International Festival of Early Music
5 November 2020

Another festival to turn to an online rather than a live presence is the annual London International Festival of Early Music with a series of nightly concerts under the banner of LIFEM: DIGITAL, recorded in their usual venues in and around Blackheath is south-east London. The first concert was given by the viol consort Fretwork, who celebrated the 30th anniversary in 2016. The concert ended with a world premiere of The Tudor Pull by John Paul Jones who many will know as the most modest member of the legendary multi-instrumentalist of the 1970/802 rock group Led Zeppelin.

After an introductory sequence of four pieces by Anthony Holborne came Summa, the first of two pieces by Arvo Pärt. John Bull’s enigmatic keyboard In Nomine with the curious time signature if 11/4 followed its complex rhythmic structure allowed to flow smoothly by the five Fretwork players, with a nicely placed segue into the almost inevitable triple time concluding section. The clarity of the intonation of the viols revealled aspects of the harmonies not normally apparent in on organ or harpsichord performances.

A sequence of three pieces by Christopher Tye (Crye, Trust & Howlde Fast) led to the second piece by Arvo Pärt and the distincively evocative harmonies of Fratres – a moment of reflection amongst the often complex rhythms and structures of the period pieces. After several little pieces from the Lumley Part Books, the Lupo family were represented by two members, Joseph and one of the two Thomas’s with a Pavan and 5-part Fantazia. 

John Paul Jones’ The Tudor Pull is in three sections, Hampton Court – Kew – The Tower. In a historical context that journey could signify a rather depressing route towards the removal of ones head, but it is a more recent and rather curious bit of river theatre where a procession of barges carry a bit of wooden water pipe (representing the Crown Jewels) in solemn manner to The Tower. The opening movement is built on a five-note motif that was extended into florid passage work before a gentler section takes over. The middle movement, Kew, was built on plucked bass with interjections from the higher instruments. The Tower features unison passages for all five viols. A half-hour ‘In Conversation’ with John Paul Jones and Fretwork’s Richard Boothby can be accessed here.

It was filmed in the church of St Michaels and All Angel, Blackheath, the acoustic being rather more generous than it is with a full audience. The members of Fretwork were Asako Morikawa, Emily Ashton, Joanna Levine, Sam Stadlen and their director Richard Boothby. Their exquisite sense of consort and perfect intonation made for an extremely attractive concert.

The concert can be viewed here, There is a donation button for those able to support the London International Festival of Early Music financially given that they have lost all the income from a live non-Covid audience. The festival continutes with more online concerts, a young artists competition final and a virtual exhibition of instruments.

Anthony Holborne: Pavan, The Cradle, Heres Paternus, Muy linda
Arvo Pärt: Summa
John Bull: In Nomine in 11/4
Christopher Tye: Crye, Trust, Howlde Fast
Arvo Pärt: Fratres
Lumley Part B, tooks
Jospeh Lupo: Pavan
Thomas Lupo: Fantazia in 5 parts
John Paul Jones The Tudor Pull (World Premiere)