GIBBONS In Chains of Gold: The English Pre-Restoration Verse Anthem, Vol 1
Don’t start playing this disc at the beginning. Skip straight to track 3 and Gibbons’s first In nomine a 5, and listen to the blanched brilliance, the glistening cobweb delicacy of tone from Fretwork’s viols. If something feels unfamiliar, electric almost in its charge, then it’s down to the tuning, which puts the consort up to the perilous heights of A466 for this recording – a ‘perfectly likely tuning’ for this repertoire, according to a booklet note by the album’s artistic director William Hunt. The effect, in the three In nomines recorded here, is of uncanny beauty, familiar notes polished up to a new sheen and lustre.
This innovation alone makes ‘In Chains of Gold’, an album of Orlando Gibbons’s consort anthems (Vol 1 of a planned set), worth investigating. Whether you’ll choose to return quite as often to the anthems themselves is another matter. Fretwork are joined here not only by His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts – lending some burnished colours and glowing contrapuntal detail to ‘Great King of Gods’, ‘O all true faithful hearts’ and ‘Lord, grant grace’ – but also by Peter Harvey’s Magdalena Consort.
This ensemble matches Fretwork’s authentic tuning with intimate forces, whose upper voices include not only trebles and means but also contratenors, taking lines more usually sung now by altos. But among such few voices any blots are keenly evident, and the now acid-toned and lumpy tenor of Charles Daniels blurts out too often for comfort. His solos in ‘Behold, thou hast made my days’ and ‘Great King of Gods’ lurch in and out of focus, distorting the clarity and shape of Gibbons’s lovely lines. It’s a tendency that proves catching, and while there are some fine moments (especially from the basses), these anthems lack the character and sustained beauty of rival recordings.