For the first concert of 2022, Shropshire Music Trust presented a concert by the Viol Consort Fretwork. This was held in St Alkmund’s Church, Shrewsbury, where the beautiful acoustics were appreciated by musicians and audience alike.
Fretwork, a group of five viol players, unsurprisingly has an international reputation for a repertoire ranging from the great English composers such as Taverner and Purcell up to the present day; in fact, they have commissioned nearly 50 works by contemporary composers.
The viol is a fascinating, and fairly rare, instrument, in appearance like a member of the violin family but having six strings and a flat back so it’s actually a member of the guitar family. Three of the group – Emilia Benjamin, Emily Ashton and Joanne Levine play viols of genuine antiquity whereas Sam Stadlen and Richard Boothby play modern instruments of a lower pitch.
Mr Boothby’s dry sense of humour, knowledge and enthusiasm introduced the individual pieces of music. The programme was based around four English composers of the 17th century; William Lawes provided the opening and closing works of the evening. His Consort set in F major for five viols set the mood for the concert. This beautiful music is strangely restful to modern ears and demands extraordinary group cohesion. Each musician plays with no sense of ego and the result is performances of sublime beauty. John Jenkins was the only composer featured who enjoyed a long life, living for about 86 years. His ‘Two Fantasies’ in five parts closed the first half of the concert and displayed a broader sound palette than any used by the other composers.
Mattthew Locke, whose 400th anniversary is being celebrated this year, composed three works, as did Henry Purcell; both wrote music of extraordinary beauty and whether 3, 4 or 5 viols played, the result was always like an intimate conversation between a group of equals.
This was a truly beautiful concert on a freezing January evening St Alkmund’s Church kept us warm and entertained by yet another concert from this year’s Shropshire Music Trust’s programme.