Thursday 21 April 2022

Pärt and White from SANSARA and Fretwork

Fretwork & SANSARA at St John's Smith Square's Easter Festival (Photo Nick Rutter)
Fretwork & SANSARA at St John's Smith Square's Easter Festival (Photo Nick Rutter)

Pärt: Fratres, Solfeggio, Summa, Stabat Mater, Da pacem Domine, White: Lamentations à 5; SANSARA, Fretwork, dir. Tom Herring; St John’s Smith Square
Reviewed 14 April 2022, by John Hutchings 

The viols of Fretwork and voices of SANSARA make an unforgettable pairing in music by Arvo Pärt and Robert White

Fretwork, arguably the world’s leading viol consort, opened this Maundy Thursday concert (14 April 2022) at St John's Smith Square's Easter Festival with one of three arrangements by viol player Richard Boothby of Pärt’s works, Fratres (1977), which created a intimate, resonant sonority within the performance space, and displayed a synergy between performers which other ensembles can only envy. This was echoed by the five voices of SANSARA in the rear gallery with Pärt’s Solfeggio (1963), performed with clarity and fullness of tone without individual voices breaking through the carefully crafted ensemble.

Following Pärt’s Summa (1977), Boothby had also arranged Pärt’s Stabat Mater (1985) for three voices and three viols. The performers lifted the music off the page, combining glass-like fragility with warmth and precision. Singers Fiona Fraser, Amy Blythe and Jonathan Hanley were well-matched, seemingly effortless in vocal range and dexterity, the performers' interaction on stage creating an entirely intimate account of the 13th century text.

After a long reflective silence from the audience, all performers combined in Robert White’s sonorous five-part Lamentations (from the Dow Partbooks of 1580). A marked difference to the Pärt, here the combined sound was richer, the connection between each voice and viol precise. Intelligent programming linked this to the final work, Pärt’s Da pacem Domine (2004), the phrases of which end with Renaissance-like cadences.

Fretwork & SANSARA at St John's Smith Square's Easter Festival (Photo Nick Rutter)

Ultimately this was less a concert performance of curated works of sound, but something more immersive, cohesive, and intimate. The synergy between each voice and viol made this possibly the finest combination of voices and instruments I've heard in years: under Tom Herring’s leadership SANSARA are at the forefront of curating excellence in sonority, ensemble and precision. This partnership with the Fretwork was one of near-perfection, unforgettable, and one to watch.

Reviewed by John Hutchings

Music Strategic Lead Officer for Essex Music Education Hub

and Academic Teacher at Junior Trinity.

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