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GRAMOPHONE (01/2020)
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Reviewer: Mark Seow 

Though Richard Boothby writes in the booklet notes that this ‘isn’t an anniversary’ of their first recording, ‘In nomine’ (Amon Ra, 3/88), it’s difficult not to listen to this superb recording as a summation of a superb lifetime’s work. That today’s Fretwork, apart from Boothby, is made up of wholly different people to the group’s early days (though founder William Hunt and early member Susanna Pell do join the team for the In nomines in five and six parts) doesn’t make a bit of difference: this release speaks of a sustained commitment to the core repertory of English consort music while championing contemporary music for viols.

Nico Muhly’s Slow opens the disc with lightning incision. Where’s the In nomine, you may ask, in this surging sound of neurons, this relentless electric train of the human body? But then acclimatisation occurs, and individual sparks of moto perpetuo give way to a tempo undetermined by how fast bows are travelling. We hear the larger pulsations of the In nomine passed round below; it’s a glorious experiment in time, patience, meditation through activity. The other contemporary track is also a triumph. Gavin Bryars writes wonderfully for the consort: sinister homophony mourns in the way that only a viola da gamba can, and time itself slows down too as if to pay respect.

The disc, however, is best when at home in 16th-century England. The In nomine in 11/4 by John Bull is truly wonderful. The group make an intoxicating, luxurious sound which, combined with Bull’s unusual time signature and metric devices, creates an unceasing sense of motion that invades listeners’ ears and seems to usurp their very flow of blood. The lusciousness of the In nomine Through All the Parts by Alfonso Ferrabosco II also jousts for top position. Resplendent counterpoint (I can’t begin to imagine how many hours were spent tuning and refining the positions of frets during the recording process – this is intonation of luminous mathematics) and a shared sense of breath and line tumble seamlessly between sections. This is Fretwork at their finest: historical sympathy and innovation in bounds, a fearless endeavour to plough through the 21st century in all its noise and ugliness with these old and fragile instruments that continue to have so much to say.

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