Birds on Fire

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bassano and Salamone Rossi,Duarte,Gough,Lupo,Wilder
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Birds on Fire
WORKS: Jewish Music for Viols
PERFORMER: Fretwork; Jeremy Avis (voice)


Although subtitled ‘Jewish musicians at the Tudor court’, there are no exotic surprises in the English 17th- and 18th‑century pieces here; it was the standard court music of its day. Some are, though, highly inventive, including four finely-wrought six-part fantasias by Thomas Lupo. They’re beautifully played – Fretwork create a richness of sonority which only spot-on mean-tone tuning can deliver. Two pieces actually come from 18th-century Mantua, settings of a Jewish prayer and Psalm 128 by Rossi. They’re sung by Jeremy Avis whose alluringly clean quality perfectly matches accompanying viols. Though sound is strictly two-dimensional rather than SACD, it’s admirably balanced. Birds on Fire, lending its title to the disc, is by Orlando Gough (b1953), a British composer mainly of theatre and ballet music. He coaxes fascinating new sonorities and articulations from the conventional viol consort. The piece, in three movements, is inspired by a poignant novel about a group of Jews whose 1939 holiday resort gradually becomes a ghetto from which they are taken to their deaths. The music is hauntingly coloured by reference to klezmer tunes, while the second movement grows over a hypnotic ostinato. A memorable disc. George Pratt