Christmas themed masterpieces by Byrd formed the core of Fretwork’s dark-timbred viol consort recital at the Wigmore Hall. Music from the Tudor and Stewart courts,‘songs of sadnesse and Pietie’, featured the voice of Helen Charlston, a young mezzo who is rapidly making a name for herself after winning the Handel Singing Competition in 2018.
Byrd’s resonant instrumental ‘In Nomines’ for five viols were scattered throughout the first half, interspersed with some of his most enduring festive songs. There is an underlying gravity to this repertoire, which Fretwork has made its own. This music emerged from the turbulent religious landscape of the Reformation. The programme combined echoes from medieval lyrics and the Catholic tradition melding with a pared back Protestant sensibility, exemplified in the work of Byrd, Holboune, Peerson and their contemporaries. ‘Out of the orient crystal skies’ set the devotional mood. Helen Charston’s chocolate toned mezzo negotiated the gorgeous depths and twists and turns of this demanding consort song, the shepherd’s view of the manger, finishing with a light madrigalian flourish ‘falantidingdido’. Cradle songs and Lullabies followed, Byrd’s timeless masterpiece of 1588 and its close relative by Martin Peerson ‘Upon my lap my soveraigne sits’, published in 1620.
Gibbons’s ‘In Nomine’ introduced a dance like rhythm and more indugent suspensions, while his ‘Fantasy a4’ for 'great dooble basse' displayed even darker colours from Fretwork’s superb musicians. Weelkes’s ‘To shorten winters sadnesse’ added some jollity to the evening as did the final piece, a New Year hymn, Byrd’s ‘O God that guides the cheerful sun’. An evening of choice, sombre treasures from Fretwork.