Fretwork marks its 35th anniversary with this holiday release. Although “holiday release” hardly describes this album. The celebration of Christmas was quite different than it is today. In fact, it was quite different from the Victorian Christmas traditions that now define the holiday.
Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, was a time for mediation, not celebration. The celebrations were for Christmastide (the 12 days of Christmas). There was plenty of music for these seasons in the Tudor era, and most of it was religious in nature.
Fretwork and mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston present a first-rate program. It combines somber Advent music with joyful Christmas selections.
Charlston has a warm, rich tone that casts an ethereal beauty over the music. She’s especially effective in the Advent selections. In William Byrd’s “Out of the Orient Cyrstal Skies,” for example, her long, sustained tones radiate calm and serenity.
Charlston’s performances in the Christmas selections have a reserved energy to them. That’s befitting, I think, for music performed at court. There’s a certain elegance in her delivery that appealed to me.
And of course, Fretwork performed to their usual high standards. This ensemble knows their business, and they know it well. The playing is expressive, yet precise.
If you plan to spend time this Christmas in a comfy chair with a hot drink, plan to get this release. Though the music is over four centuries old, it still has the power to soothe.
An Elizabethan Christmas
Byrd, Gibbons. Holborne, Peerson, Weelkes
Helen Charlston, mezzo-soprano