Thomas LUPO (1571-1627)
Rec. 5-7 November 2018 at St Mary Magdalene’s Church, Sherborne, Gloucester, UK
Reviewed as a digital download from a press preview
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD716 [64:06]
Over the last few years we have been able to enjoy the creative rivalry of what I fancifully view as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones of the viol world. No sooner do Phantasm give us another gorgeous album than Fretwork come roaring back with their own. In this tenuous analogy, I fancy that Fretwork are the Stones with an edgier, more convulsive sound next to the ripe plushness of Phantasm. As with those two rock bands, only a cloth eared fool would want anything but both Fretwork and Phantasm.
This latest offering from Fretwork features the work of Thomas Lupo, the scion of an Italian Jewish musical dynasty brought over initially to entertain the court of Henry VIII. Thomas was the grandson of Ambrosio who first arrived in England from Venice. Thomas’ music retains that Italian influence even as he takes his place in the grand tradition of English viol music. Indeed, as Richard Boothby points out in his excellent note, his family can be said to have played a decisive role in the creation of that tradition by the introduction of Italian dance styles and counterpoint into the country. I have only been able to track down one recording solely devoted to Thomas Lupo’s music- a 1996 ASV release by the English Fantasy – though he does feature regularly on anthologies of English consort music. Fretwork make a superb case for him as a composer in his own right.
Dance styles are very much to the fore in this recording as even the slower pieces have a skip to their step. This is allied to an airiness to the textures that prioritises movement over sonority. The sonorities in the hands of such expert players are, of course, an endless joy but the balletic movement is an even greater one.
Another major influence, obviously, and one very well captured by Fretwork’s singing style, is that of vocal music. The viol becomes an extension of the human voice rather than something more abstract. Monteverdi looms in the background and every strand of these complex musical textures appears first and foremost singable even when, as in the opening of Fantasia 5, Lupo produces extraordinary effects.
Consort music always had a Janus like character: one face looking inward toward the pleasures of the performers in interacting with one another; and the other looking outward to the listener. Listening to this recording, Fretwork strike a profitable balance between the two, letting us eavesdrop on their satisfaction at playing together yet placing the listener on the royal throne to be entertained by them.
Lupo’s imagination is extravagant and the resultant music is endlessly inventive – nothing seems rote or repetitive and Fretwork seem to relish the challenge- serene one moment, glowering and intense the next and running the whole gamut of emotions in between.
For all the sophistication of their playing, and it must be recalled that this is music for court, Fretwork always have something of the edge of the country fiddler. Fantasia 29 is cast in five parts but sounds at its outset like a folk song. It is the tension between technical complexity and the roots in dance and song that energise this collection.
This is a characteristically muscular approach from Fretwork -try the almost martial stride of Fantasia 31 – but just as typically the end of the same work gives way to beautifully blended and soulful music making. Unsurprisingly, Fretwork are always technically as solid as a rock whatever Lupo throws at them. The same could be said about the sound quality which places the musicians at an ideal, intimate distance. Recorded too close an hour of viols can get a little wearying but not here.
This album represents Fretwork at their best, throwing themselves into unfamiliar repertoire with abandon and radiating charisma. There is nuance and subtlety aplenty but it is the infectious forward impetus of their playing that makes this recording such a treasure.
Fantasia 1 in 5 parts, VdGS 11 [3:17]
Fantasia 15 in 3 parts, VdGS 24 [2:01]
Fantasia 29 in 5 parts, VdGS 25 [2:54]
Fantasia 8 in 6 parts, VdGS 8 [4:03]
Fantasia 15 in 3 parts, VdGS 26 [3:39]
Fantasia 13 in 3 parts, VdGS 15 [2:50]
Fantasia 31 in 5 parts, VdGS 27 [2:55]
Fantasia 2 in 6 parts, VdGS 2 [3:45]
Fantasia 17 in 3 parts, VdGS 27 [2:40]
Fantasia 30 in 5 parts, VdGS 26 [3:33]
Fantasia 9 in 5 parts, VdGS 1 [3:25]
Pavan 28 in 3 parts, VdGS 3 [3:42]
Fantasia 10 in 5 parts, VdGS 3 [3:37]
Fantasia 2 in 5 parts, VdGS 12 [3:26]
Fantasia 12 in 3 parts, VdGS 14 [2:04]
Fantasia 8 in 3 parts, VdGS 10 [2:30]
Fantasia 35 in 5 parts, VdGS 33 [2:26]
Fantasia 10 in 6 parts, VdGS 10 [3:41]
Fantasia 5 in 6 parts, VdGS 5 [3:44]
Fantasia 27 in 5 parts, VdGS 23 [3:42]