Alternative History Quartet


Anna Maria Friman (voice and hardanger fiddle)
John Potter (voice)
Ariel Abramovich (lute)
Jacob Heringman (lute)

Alternative History QuartetRecordings: Amores Pasados (ECM, 2015) and Secret History (ECM Aug. 2017) 

Anna Maria Friman (voice, hardanger fiddle)

John Potter (voice)

Ariel Abramovich (lute / vihuela)

Jacob Heringman (lute / vihuela). 

The quartet Alternative History (Anna Maria Friman (voice, hardanger fiddle), John Potter (voice), Ariel Abramovich (lute / vihuela), Jacob Heringman (lute / vihuela) performs lute songs by rock musicians alongside 17th century originals as well as transcriptions of 20th century English song by Warlock, Quilter, Moeran, Bryars and others arranged for two lutes and voices. Sting, Tony Banks (Genesis), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) and Peter Erskine have written pieces especially for this lineup and the pieces will be included in the groups next recording (April 2020). The most recent piece by John Paul Jones ’A Cradle Song’ had its first performance in June 2017 at Swaledale Festival, UK where John Paul Jones joined us on mandolin for a couple of pieces. The group has released two recordings on ECM Records Amores Pasados (2015) and Secret History (2017).

The musicians first came together to record Secret History (ECM, 2017), an album of sacred music by Josquin and Victoria, whose motets and masses sit beside each other in the 17th century Paston manuscript. The live debut of this programme was in Avila, Victoria’s birthplace, in August 2014. Future plans include further explorations of the early 20th century English song repertoire and more commissions from rock musicians.

John Potter has picked out some reviews and writes this (below) on his website:

Andrew Benson-Wilson was the first of the UK bloggers to pick it up. He also gets it – describing ‘No dormia’, the second of the John Paul Jones pieces, as ‘a magically evocative, and almost medieval interpretation of a poem by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer – ‘magical spaces’ indeed’ and seeing an affinity between the medieval and late 20th century minimalism in the Picforth In Nomine.He concludes by saying that ‘The mood of the CD is delightfully relaxed, and has something of an improvisatory feel’ – the latter being true and the former something of a relief…

The USA release was accompanied by an NPR Millennium of Music special hosted by the legendary Robert Aubry Davis, who quoted at length in his preamble from the Squenza21 review from Christian Carey. He also really understands the middle ground that we inhabit, with both composers and performers staying true to their identities:‘Whether in tuning the achingly beautiful close part harmonies in Jones’s No Dormia or navigating the harmonic and rhythmic shifts found in abundance in Banks’s “The Cypress Curtain of the Night,” Potter, Friman, and their lutenist colleagues prove skilful and sympathetic collaborators,’ using rhythm and phrasing to bridge the genre gap.

Grego Applegate Edwards gave us a glowing report in his GrapplegateClassical-Modern Music Review:

‘What amazes is how all the songs from such diverse times and places work together in a program where the present and the past commingle together artfully, glowingly. 

All flows beautifully together with Potter’s vocals and those of Ms. Friman standing out with sensitive artfulness, the lute and fiddle parts giving us an early music feel yet of course the melodic structures differing by period. Nevertheless one finds the music unified by the instrumentation and vocal presence, as if one were looking into the future from the perspective of a Renaissance performing troupe. 

It all is rather uncanny. Potter is outstanding as are the others in creating and sustaining a timeless mood, somehow mysteriously partaking of ages long gone and of the very near present. The sound has that ECM touch, so fitting for this music, and the performances are in every way worthy of the songs and their consistently high quality. Given half a chance, John Potter and ensemble will put you under their spell and give you much pleasure with this fine album.’

I was really pleased that The Arts Desk not only recognised the supreme artistry of Jacob Heringman and Ariel Abramovich, but also appreciated the Warlock and Moeran (this is a very fertile field that we continue to explore in concert):

‘The modern numbers don’t stand out as much as you might expect, helped by some sublime lute playing from Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman. Vocal duties are shared between Potter and Anna Maria Friman, their pure, unaffected singing styles perfectly matched. No texts are provided, which is never an issue – diction is consistently good. The Campion settings are predictably well performed, but the real surprises are a pair of songs by Warlock and Moeran; the latter’s exquisite Housman setting the best thing on the disc. Of the new songs, Banks’s “Follow thy fair sun” is a highlight, along with Jones’s “So ell encina”. Sting’s “Bury me deep in the greenwood” closes this collection, beautifully sung by Potter. Unexpectedly delightful.’