Iestyn Davies / Fretwork

If

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Iestyn Davies is the British countertenor of the moment as of 2019, and part of the reason is his adventurous program. He has outdone himself with If, named for one of the excerpts from The Diary of Anne Frank, Michael Nyman's score for a Japanese anime treatment of that famous tragic story. It's not so much that the program here mixes the Baroque music of Henry Purcell with the contemporary semi-minimalism of Nyman; the Baroque-minimalism equation has been proposed before and explored in various ways. More interesting is that Davies has a partner in programming adventure: the viol consort Fretwork, who have been unusually active in their involvement with contemporary composers. They are a virtuoso collective, capable of many sounds beyond the homogenous, rather neurasthenic plain viol consort texture. And this is what's most interesting of all: If mixes music written for voice and viol consort -- by Nyman, not Purcell, who never wrote for this combination -- with music arranged for this configuration by longtime Fretwork member Richard Boothby. This creates an impressive variety, and "variety" is not a word often associated with viol consort music. The viol originals are actually closer to the usual viol textures than Boothby's arrangements: sample Nyman's No Time in Eternity, setting short lyrics by 17th century poet Robert Herrick, which was commissioned by Fretwork and which sounds both familiar and novel. And Boothby's arrangements of the Purcell songs are straightforward and beautifully sung; they make you wish Purcell had written some of these himself. Contrast these with Nyman's Balancing the Books, where Fretwork are forced intriguingly out of their comfort zone. You may like one type of work on the album better than the others, but If is definitely not an album just for Nyman (or Davies) fans.

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