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GRAMOPHONE (03/2021)
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Reviewer: Mark Seow

The overall sound made by the Fieri Consort and Chelys Consort of Viols is bliss. The viols glisten with the timbral purity of early-afternoon winter sunshine, and their phrasing is animated with focus. There’s wonder in how the consort close a phrase in a moment’s notice, like a wind that retreats into the corner of a room, or a paper vote folded in half: Chelys communally shape this early 17th-century music by Michael East with swift secrecy. The Fieri Consort are on top form, too: a lovely blend, though the balance tends to favour the upper voices. There is something about their not quite youthful but not yet fully mature voices that makes this repertoire ring. Together, recorded in the wooded warmth of Girton College chapel – one of my favourite places in Cambridge – the consorts glow with an indifference to the beauty of their own music-making. It’s an ego-less type of performance that I adore.

But such an album will always be prey to hypnotic sameness. Unfortunately, the sequence of movements builds towards predictability, though other listeners may find this gloriously meditative.

The concluding piece by contemporary composer Jill Jarman, Now are my thoughts at peace, is fantastic. I relish the excitement created in the sense that the piece – part game, part knitting exercise – might fall apart at any moment. I don’t at all mind the not quite seamless exchange between the viols: it creates a tension, a man-madeness to the musical fabric that works in excellent distinction to the sustained vocal lines that reverberate in dissonance. While I appreciate the grouping of East’s eight five-part fantasias for viols in a single sequence, the final offering by Jarman highlights issues with the album’s curation – alternating between instrumental and human voices is not quite enough to sustain aural attention. It also proposes a challenge: how might these fantasias and anthems be hung together so that they don’t merely blur into resplendent haze (and without, of course, breaking the budget)? I’m certain there are more ways about this than already provided by Fretwork; their ‘In nomine II’ (Signum, 1/20), however, is a fine solution.

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