Fretwork, the 22-year-old English viol ensemble that opened the Buffalo Chamber Music Society's season, is pushing out the frontiers of the early music movement.
It's a movement that largely resided in academia until the middle of the 20th century, and the performances sounded -- well -- academic. In the 1950s, early music took on a vitality and excitement that won new audiences, thanks to Noah Greenberg's New York Pro Musica and other enlightened groups. And now, Fretwork's innovation is in encouraging and commissioning new music to be written for old instrumental configurations.
Tuesday's concert, titled "Jewish Musicians at the English Court," concluded with one of their commissions, Orlando Gough's 2001 suite "Birds on Fire." But the program was predominantly devoted to music of the 16th century centered around heretofore little-known Jewish composers of the Bassano and Lupo families.
As a kind of progressive entry into this medium, Augustine Bassano's Pavan & Galliard 1 expounded the typical rhythmic profile of the ancient pavan, then moved on to the more rhythmically involved Fantasia No. 1 in 5 parts by his brother Hieronymus. The harmonies in Joseph Lupo's Pavan in 5 parts were marginally more complex, and there was noticeably more rhythmic vitality and invention in Two Fantasias in 5 parts by Thomas Lupo, whose appearance on the program four times implies that Fretwork finds importance in his music.
Because of the paucity of viol ensembles on even top-rated series like the BCMS, the finer distinctions among the 16-odd works performed were not easy to appreciate. The quality of the artists' performances, however, was outstanding throughout.
Presented by Buffalo Chamber Music Society on Tuesday night in Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall.