Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is something of a revelatory disc, given that Ward’s posthumous reputation lies more with his madrigals - not that his status has ever been especially exalted, on disc at least.
But these performances - outstanding in every way - do much to re-establish him as a major composer for instrumental forces and his most favoured consort music for four, five and six viols. Phantasm has chosen to record the music for five and six viols.
Ward lived in London, working for Sir Henry Fanshawe, and his consort music was certainly well enough known in his lifetime. It exists in a number of seventeenth century editions and was subject to significant praise by a musician and writer called Thomas Mace who spoke of its
‘great eminence and worth…fit monuments and patterns for sober and wise posterity.’ Maybe posterity has caught up with Mace’s estimation and with Ward’s consort music at last.
Most of the Fantasias are tripartite, as it were, with a three section schema. All are thoroughly well written, expressive, and accomplished. It’s best to listen to a set of, say, three or four at a time, not because they are repetitious but because their moods are broadly similar in effect if not in detail. Fortunately he was something of a minor master of syncopation and this keeps things alive. He is also superbly adept at contrastive material. The remarkably agile dance patterns infiltrated into the writing give great strength and variety to the music. One thinks of the Fantasia a 3 a6 [track 2] where the unhurried ease of the outer sections is explicitly contrasted with the masque-like dance patterns of the central panel. The fluidity of the writing, as well, is a constant feature - the Fantasia No.4 a6 is a particularly fine example. And so too is the warmly textured consort writing itself, so wonderfully realised by Phantasm, who play with the utmost refinement but never inflate the Fantasias nor seek to underline expressive points that emerge the better for their noble eloquence.
Lest one think otherwise it’s not all mellifluously aerated consort textures. There are strong dissonances, ripe antiphonal statements, and a highly expressive number of shifting, drifting harmonies, of which a Fantasia No. 3 a5 [track 11] is a prime example. There are also Madrigalian cadences in the more vocalised settings such as the Fantasia No.5 a5 [track 13] and this vocalised impress translated into instrumental form, a product of his immersion in Italian vocal music, makes itself explicitly heard in the extrovert flourishes of the Fantasia No.11 a5
It remains only to add that the booklet is finely produced, and provocatively engaging. The recorded sound is fittingly warm and excellent. Really this is a first class package, and a distinguished release.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
Phantasm has been warmly received in these pages repeatedly in the past. Brian Robins noted of their release of consort material by Byrd and Iwico (Fanfare 21:5), “Whereas Fretwork adopted a considered poised interpretative style, Phantasm is considerably more expressive and excitable, bowing more deeply into the strings…” I think this expresses well a salient attribute of Phantasm’s recorded performances. The combination of the consort’s attention to rhythmic detail and textural breadth (that bowing!) gives Ward’s fantasias an animation that only enhances their attractiveness, without palliating their grave line. It’s fortunate that the quality of these performances are outstanding, as there’s no direct competition currently to this release that aims at presenting all the composer’s consort music for five and six viols. The Rose Consort offers a selection on cpo 999 928, along with several of Ward’s “ayres” for two bass viols and organ, but I admit to finding their sound rather wiry if spirited, and not easily enjoyable as a longterm listening experience. Chalk up another success for Phantasm, then. They do a real service for Ward’s consort music on this album, and it’s well worth the price.
-- Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
"Phantasm play with the kind of sympathetic interplay that you'd expect from a crack string quartet." -- Gramophone
Laurence Dreyfus - treble viol and director;
Wendy Gillespie - treble and tenor viols;
Jonathan Manson - tenor viol;
Markku Luolajan-Mikkola - bass viol
Emilia Benjamin - tenor viol;
Mikko Perkola - bass viol
Phantasm's bold and passionate style of consort playing does full justice to John Ward's Consort music for five and six viols, recorded here complete for the very first time.
- Recorded in the warm acoustic of Wadham College Chapel, Oxford this recording reveals works that seduce the listener with lyrical melodies and music of great charm.
- Phantasm's rare ability to produce such a richly expressive unified sound allows the subtlety and elegance in Ward's music to be fully realised.
- John Ward (1571 - 1638) was a noted madrigalist and contemporary of Gibbons. His viol music is of further interest due to an abundance of historical references to Pavans, Italian "madrigalisms" and plainsong (the latter demonstrated in Ward's three examples of the In Nomine).
- Phantasm, founded in 1994, catapulted into international prominence when its debut CD won a Gramophone Award for the Best Baroque Instrumental Recording of 1997.
- Since then, Phantasm has released ten further recordings, won several awards, and become recognised as the most exciting viol consort active on the world scene today.
- Critics have called their performances and recordings: "intoxicating," "revelatory, "electrifying," "interpretations pervaded by a truly burning spirit."
In their debut recording for Linn Records, acclaimed viol consort Phantasm showcase their dazzling sonority with a charming programme of music deserving of re-discovery.
"So harmonious is their mutual musical vision that it is hard to believe there are really six individual players at work here." -- BBC Music Magazine
Works on This Recording
In Nomine a 5 by John Ward
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