Sansara & Fretwork: Pärt & White

Arvo Pärt & Robert White
Sansara & Fretwork
St John’s, Smith Square, 14 April 2022

For many years, St John’s, Smith Square has been the musical place to be in the run-up to Easter. This year’s Easter Festival was no exception. The seven-day event included regulars such as Polyphony, in their traditional Good Friday Passion, alongside the usual focus on other early music performances. The first two events rather countered that focus with the 1915 Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil opening the festival followed by Dupré’s 1931 Le Chemin de la Croix for organ. Another was the concert by the vocal group Sansara and the viol consort Fretwork, reviewed here, which contrasted music by the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt with Robert Wight’s Lamentations à 5.

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Byrd 1588

Byrd 1588
Psalmes, Sonets & Songs of sadnes and pietie
Alamire, Fretwork, David Skinner
Inventa Records INV1006. 2CDs, 78’54 + 78’20

The 1588 Psalmes, Sonets, & songs of sadnes and pietie was William Byrd’s first solo publication after the Cantiones Sacrae of 1575, a joint venture with Thomas Tallis. This recording is also a joint venture between the chamber choir Alamire and the viol consort Fretwork. It was recorded, appropriately, in the isolated church of All Saints’ Church, Holdenby, in Northamptonshire, the only surviving relic of a village that was moved by Sir Christopher Hatton, Elizabeth I’s Lord Chancellor and the patron of the 1588 collection, when he built (in 1583) the nearby Holdenby House, itself now reduced to a few remnants from its initial grandeur as one of the largest houses in the country.

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The Albion Project: Fretwork

The Albion Project
Fretwork
Gabriel Prokofiev, Nonclassical
Kings Place, 12 November 2021

The Albion Project is an initiative from the viol consort Fretwork. They commissioned composers to arrange a wide range of significant works of British music for viol consort. This was performed in Hall 2 (a black box studio) of Kings Place as part of their 2021 London Unwrapped series of concerts. The new arrangements and remixes were performed with and together with a digital narrative from Gabriel Prokofiev (assisted by Blasio Kavuma), who linked and underlay Fretwork’s live music for five viols with extracts from live recordings, computer beats, loops, audio manipulation and various other technical wizardries. It was an attempt to answer the question – what is British identity, and what is that in music?

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LIFEM DIGITAL: Fretwork

Fretwork
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.

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Purcell and Michael Nyman

Purcell & Michael Nyman
Iestyn Davies & Fretwork
Milton Court, 28 May 2018

Michael Nyman: No Time in Eternity
Purcell: Two Fantazies in four parts; Music for a While
Michael Nyman: Music after a While (world premiere)
Purcell: An Evening Hymn
Michael Nyman: Balancing the Books; The Diary of Anne Frank: If; Why
Purcell; Fantazy in four parts; Fantazy upon one note
Michael Nyman: Self-laudatory hymn of Inanna and her omnipotence

Many early music period instrument groups play and commission contemporary works, but the viol consort Fretwork is one of the most active in this field, with over 40 commissions over their 32-year life. Their latest commission is from Michael Nyman with Music after a While, an instrumental response to Purcell’s Music for a While, and given it’s world premiere during this concert. Early music, and particularly the compositions of Purcell, have been life-long influences on Nyman, as reflected for example, in his Purcell-inspired score for the film The Draughtsman’s Contract. A student of Thurston Dart, Nyman’s early career including editing Purcell and Handel, and his performing band combined period and modern instruments. He has worked many times before with Fretwork. Continue reading

The World Encompassed

The World Encompassed
Orlando Gough, Fretwork, Simon Callow
Signum Classics SIGCD453. 2CDs 41’19+41’56

This recording is based on the fact that Sir Francis Drake is known to have taken four viol players with him on his 1577-80 circumnavigation of the world, using the musicians for prayers and entertainment on board, and for diplomatic uses with the people they met. He also had trumpeters and drummers, but they are excluded from this recording, which takes as its premise the sort of music that the musicians might have played to the people they met, and also to their friends on their return to England, using their memory of the native music that they heard during their travels. Alongside music of the period by the likes of Parsons, Taverner, White, and Picforth, the principal musical contribution comes from Orlando Gough (b 1953) who was commissioned by Fretwork to compose a sequence of 13 pieces for viol consort based on the local music that Drake and friends might have heard.  Continue reading

Martin Peerson: A Treatie of Humane Love

Martin Peerson: A Treatie of Humane Love
Mottects or Grave Chamber Music (1630)
I Fagiolini, Fretwork
Regent REGCD497. 72’53

Martin Peerson is one of those composers that can so easily slip under the radar. Little is known of his early life, and records of his adult life are confused by the various ways of spelling his name. It is likely that he was born in March (not the month, but a small market town in Cambridgeshire) around 1572, and became a choirboy at St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1604 a madrigal of his was performed at an ‘entertainment’ in Highgate arranged by Ben Jonson for James I and his Queen Anne of Denmark. This appears to have been his only involvement with the musical life of royalty during his career. He had Catholic sympathies, although managed to pass as sufficiently Protestant to be award a Bachelor of Music from Oxford in 1613. He then held posts at Canterbury and St Paul’s Cathedral and, possibly, Westminster Abbey (a “Martin Pearson” is recorded there in the 1620s).  Continue reading

Fretwork: Passacaille

Passacaille
Fretwork
Kings Place, 12 February 2016

JS Bach Piece d’Orgue, Contrapunctus 7, Passacaglia; Purcell: Chaconny; Charpentier: Concert pour les violes; Marini Passacalio; Legrenzi Sonata Sesta, Sonata Quinta; Forqueray: Pieces a trois violes; Handel: Passacaille.

Reiko Ichise

The viol consort repertoire took a long time to lie down and die. From its prime in the early years of the 17th century, its decline took different forms in different countries. Most countries retained the bass viol as a continuo instrument, with France (and, to a certain extent, Germany) developing a repertoire for solo bass viol. Italy had long since concentrated on the violin rather than the viol family. In England it was Purcell who briefly rescued the viol consort from its death throes with his remarkable late-flowering Fantasias c1680. But there were also other late-flowerings in France and Italy from the likes of Charpentier, Forqueray and Legrenzi.

In their Kings Place concert, the viol consort Fretwork explored some of these late examples of viol consort music in their programme ‘Passacaille’, the concert title giving a clue as to the nature of several of the pieces. They also ‘borrowed’ the music of Bach and Handel to add another theme their programme. They opened with Bach and a transcription of the central part of his Pièce d’Orgue (Fantasia in G minor: BWV572) Continue reading

Spitalfields Music: Cries of London

Spitalfields Music: Cries of London
Red Byrd, Fretwork
St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. 4 December 2015

Spitalfields Music approach their 40th anniversary year with an ever increasing reputation of inspired support and encouragement for music in the Tower Hamlet area of east London. Alongside their Summer and Winter Festivals, they run an enormous programme of community projects, reachinThe Cries of Londong some 30,000 people a year. Their latest Winter Festival opened (in Shoreditch parish church) with a very apt programme based on the early 17th century vogue for composing music based on the hubbub of London’s street sellers and criers, reflecting a tradition of loudly publicising wares that exists to this day in placed like the nearby Petticoat Market.

In a well-planned programme built around Orlando Gibbons’ Cries of London and Richard Dering’s Country Cries Continue reading