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Orlando GOUGH (b. 1953) The World Encompassed - Sir Francis Drake’s Circumnavigation of the Globe 1577-1580
Simon Callow (narrator)
rec. Britten Studio, Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, July 2016 SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD453 [41:19 + 41:56]
The starting point for this new work comes from the (rather startling) fact that, during his great circumnavigation of the world, Sir Francis Drake brought with him a consort of four viols. Their purpose was partly for entertainment and partly to assist in worship, but Drake would also have used them to play their music to the peoples that they met.
Taking this as their inspiration, Fretwork commissioned Orlando Gough to write a piece that would not only present the music of Drake’s time, but also freshly imagine the cross-cultural encounters that 16th century English music would have had with the music of the people Drake encountered, be that through combination or isolation. It’s a fascinating idea, which mostly works, and in itself it’s a fairly interesting concept to write a new piece of music for viol consort, an instrument that is supposed to have been superseded by those that have come after it.
The title, incidentally, comes from a book written by Drake’s nephew – also, confusingly, called Sir Francis Drake – based on the diary of Fletcher, the ship’s chaplain. On this recording, extracts from the narrative are interspersed with and bleed into the music, read with character by Simon Callow. Having it definitely helps, even if, like Brahms’ Schöne Magelone, the narrative mostly fills in gaps between the music. Time will tell whether the piece could survive without the narrative or whether, like Peter and the Wolf, this is a work where the narrative is a critical part of its make-up.
But what of the music? Well, in the music of Drake’s time we hear some of Fretwork’s staple repertoire, such as Parsons, Taverner and White, which is performed with typical sensitivity and insight. However, it’s the melange and the cross-cultural exploration that I found the most interesting, testing the interconnections of what one side has to say about the other. These are necessarily speculative, but they’re always done very intelligently. The opening, Leaving Plymouth, for example, contains snatches of sea songs as well as the tune of the Old Hundredth, and I liked the sub-plot of Drake’s animosity against the Spanish, not least because of their Catholicism; something explored by juxtaposing a Fantasia by the 16th century Spanish composer Luis de Milán with a domineering Protestant tune that eventually bludgeons it into submission.
Gough’s reimaginings of 16th Century World Music are fascinating, and best taken on their own terms rather than judged in their accuracy or closeness to the original. Anyway, as he says himself, it's impossible for a viol consort even to attempt to reproduce the sounds of, say, a gamelan orchestra, so it's wise of Gough not to even try. Instead he creates something new and intriguing on its own merits. I really liked the way the sounds of West Africa float through the viols in the evocation of the music of the Berbers. Moorish music meets Gamelan for their encounter with the Indonesian Maluku Islands, and I actually really liked his evocation of actual gamelan music on the island of Java.
Sometimes the music is more openly programmatic, such as in Maio Santiago Fogo, which depicts both the volcanic island and the shoals of fish that so impressed the sailors. Berimbau goes furthest by presenting a Samba (“a heroic failure”, in Gough’s own words) alongside The Portsmouth Hornpipe, the two coexisting but not interacting, just like the English with the Native Americans. Terra incognita is abstract and inhuman, evoking the sense of loss and despair when Drake’s ship was blown badly off course south during a 52-day long storm.
I confess it didn’t hold me gripped throughout, and there were moments on the second disc where the inspiration seemed a little thinner than elsewhere. However, this remains a fascinating project and a very noble endeavour. Gough has met his brief handsomely, and full marks go to Fretwork for seeing the initial inspiration and following it through to its realisation.
2 Leaving Plymouth
3 The Song Called Trumpets Orlando Gough
4 Preserve Us O Lord John Taverner
6 Berbers Francis Drake
7 In Nomine Orlando Gough
8 Nuno de Silva
9 Cape Verde Orlando Gough
10 Maio Santiago Fogo Francis Drake
11 Crossing the Atlantic Orlando Gough
12 Fortune my Foe
13 Port Desire: Patagonian Indians Robert White
14 Berimbau Orlando Gough
15 Port Julian
16 In Nomine Robert Parsons
17 Terra Incognita
18 The Complaint of a Sinner
1 De La Court Orlando Gough
2 Preserve us Lord
3 Cacafuego Orlando Gough
4 The Spanish Main Orlando Gough
6 Miwok Indians Orlando Gough
7 Crossing the Pacific
8 Ternate Innocentio Alberti
10 Musical Paradise
11 Pavin Orlando Gough
12 Java Orlando Gough
13 In Nomine
15 Rounding the Cape of Good Hope Robert Parsons
16 Reaching Plymouth
17 Psalm 100 Anonymous
18 The Song Called Trumpets Robert Parsons