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The viol consort Fretwork has, through several cycles of changing membership, remained one of the world's top ensembles in its field. The group stands apart from other consorts of viols in its exploration of unusual repertories, playing, for example, music of Bach on viols and commissioning a good deal of contemporary music. Fretwork was founded in London in 1985 by a sextet of viol players: Richard Boothby, Julia Hodgson, William Hunt, Wendy Gillespie, Richard Campbell, and Elizabeth Liddle. By 2022, only Boothby remained of the original group, by then trimmed to five players, but its sound and philosophy have been consistent. Fretwork immediately made an impression, and the group was invited to perform at London's Wigmore Hall in 1986. At first, both in concert and on recordings, Fretwork played the core viol repertory of the English Renaissance; the group's first album, 1987's In Nomine, featured works by Byrd, Tallis, Purcell, and Lawes in the quintessentially English genre of the In Nomine. That album was issued by the Amon Ra label, but in 1989, Fretwork joined the roster of the Virgin label and have since recorded mostly for that imprint and for Harmonia Mundi. Almost from the beginning, the group attracted attention beyond Britain; Fretwork toured the Soviet Union before its breakup, Japan, and the U.S., and has been a common sight at European summer festivals. In addition to viol consort music, Fretwork has recorded consort songs with various early music singers, including a noted group of William Byrd songs with Emma Kirkby. Around the late '90s, Fretwork began to expand its repertory beyond the Renaissance. The group has a particular specialty of music by Bach arranged for viol consort, including not only music for strings but also keyboard works and the open-score The Art of Fugue, BVW 1080. The group has commissioned numerous works by contemporary composers, including Tan Dun, Gavin Bryars, and the rock star Elvis Costello. Fretwork's music has been used in the films Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) and Broken Flowers (2005), both directed by Jim Jarmusch. The group has often toured in the U.S. with music the album Birds on Fire: Jewish Music for Viols, featuring music by Italian Jewish Baroque composers. By the early 2020s, the members of Fretwork were Boothby, Joanna Levine, Asako Morikawa, Sam Stadlen, and Emily Ashton. Fretwork has often published arrangements of the music it has played under the company name Fretwork Editions. The group signed with the Signum Classics label in 2017, and in 2019, it released the vocal album If with countertenor Iestyn Davis, performing music by Michael Nyman and Henry Purcell. In 2020, Fretwork was heard with other ensembles on the album In Chains of Gold: The English Pre-Restoration Verse Anthem, Vol. 2. Fretwork remained busy through the pandemic year of 2021, releasing three albums, Byrd 1588, Lamento, and An Elizabethan Christmas, joined on the latter by mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston. The group returned in 2022 with the album Matthew Locke: The Flat Consort.
© James Manheim /TiVo
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