fretwork

Composers: Muhly, Parsons, Bull, Baldwin, Ferrabosco, Bryars, Ward, Tye, Purcell
Compositions: Music for viol consort
Performers: Fretwork
Catalogue Number:Signum Records SIGCD576

The renowned viol consort Fretwork’s very first release in 1987 was In Nomine and now, an incredible 33 years later, we have a follow-up. Their line-up might have changed several times over the years, but, like the earlier album, this is absolutely a release of the highest order. In Nomines are a peculiarly specific form. The idea is that they all use the alto part of John Taverner’s Gloria Tibi Trinitas as a cantus firmus. Like the best set of variations, though, from restrictions come inspiration. This disc showcases the wildly varying styles that composers applied to this form, from odd time signatures (John Bull’s work in 11/4) to fun compositional effects (Christopher Tye’s echoing Reporte).

Fretwork are also certainly aware of the importance of expanding their repertoire and have always been active in commissioning new music, so this record, surprisingly, also includes pieces by contemporary composers Nico Muhly and Gavin Bryars. Although Muhly tends to get pigeonholed as “indie classical” thanks to his previous collaborations with musicians like Björk and Sufjan Stevens, his tongue-in-cheek Slow taps into his experience singing in church choirs. Despite the title, the piece is a furious marathon for the players, who bring power and precision to this complex work. Bryars, best known for his work Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet gives us a peacefully dissonant work echoing with melancholy. Here, the richly singing tone of their viols creates an incredible soundworld.

Still, the more traditional 16th-century In Nomine repertoire takes up most of the disc. Although much of this repertoire is slow, there’s never a sense of redundancy. Fretwork’s inventiveness in phrasing and impressive expressive range combine beautifully on all of these tracks, but perhaps none more so than the closing performance of Purcell’s 7-part In Nomine. A flawless follow-up to a classic.