MUSIC / Fit for a king: Nicholas Williams on Fretwork and the Stuart court at the Wigmore Hall

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The Independent Culture
Williams Lawes was a cavalier composer - literally: he died at Chester in 1645 fighting in the royalist army. John Cooper, in the words of historian Roger North, 'affected an Italian termination' and became John Coprario, trying to boost his career as violist and lutenist. Something about these 17th-century figures seems refreshingly modern. Their consort music was the admiration of Europe, yet their professional security was as precarious as that of musicians has ever been.

Lawes was one of the key figures in Fretwork's Wigmore Hall programme, celebrating instrumental music written for the Stuart court. Movements from his first Royal Consort, in D minor, opened and closed the sequence of works before the interval. The sixth Royal Consort, including a strident Scottish Aire and a rampant Morris, brought the evening to a rousing conclusion. Throughout, this was music of caprices and conceits - most prominent was the echo technique, a melodious strain played by the whole ensemble, being quietly repeated by a handful of instruments. On soft- toned viols the effect was magical.

Matthew Locke's Saraband from his C major suite for 'broken consort', beginning the second half, had an almost Latin swing, and the opening Fantasy justified its title with mood fluctuations of dizzy surrealism. From an earlier generation, a Pavan and Almain by Ferrabosco showed the more functional side of Jacobean dance music and was a stylistic transition to the Fantasy form proper, with its roots in the madrigal. The severity of Orlando Gibbons' five- part In Nomine was clear from Fretwork's intense, disciplined reading. Two of John Coprario's five-part fantasies and a fantasy in five parts by Thomas Lupo traversed similar ground from different directions, alternating sprightly polyphony with soothing, harmonious interludes.

Serious contrapuntal composing for viols came to an end with the arrival of Charles II, who preferred the more easy-going guitar. Paula Chateauneuf and William Carter played pleasing solos and duets from La Guitarre royalle, by Francesco Corbetta, guitar-tutor to the King. Even more satisfying was a stirring Trompette Tembour de France et de Suisse fait sur la prise de Mastricht. Chateauneuf and Carter seemed neither for nor against, performing with the demeanour of those for whom there is no new thing under the sun.

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