Phantasm - Four Temperaments - American Record Guide


01 April 2014
American Record Guide
William J Gatens

This is a reissue of a 2005 recording originally on the Avie label. "Four Temperaments" is a fanciful premise for assembling a program of music for viol consort by four eminent composers active in England in the late 16th Century: Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585), William Byrd (c1540-1623), Robert Parsons (c1535-72), and Alfonso Ferrabosco I (1543-88). Laurence Dreyfus, treble violist and director of the consort Phantasm, sets out his case in the program notes. According to medical doctrine dating back to Hipprocrates, the four temperaments are fundamental human personalities derived from the predominance of one of the four bodily humors. Dreyfus associates each of the four composers with one of the temperaments: the sanguine, characterized by courage and optimism (Tallis); the phlegmatic, noted for an equable disposition (Ferrabosco); the choleric, notable for quickness to anger (Parsons); and the melancholic, predisposed to sadness (Byrd). Of course, even Dreyfus admits that this is far too simple, that each of the composers had a multi-faceted personality; but he be on to something as we hear expression of these predispositions in the works performed.

The program is drawn from fantasias, In Nomines, dances, and songs of the period. Since the instrumental performance of vocal music was commonplace at the time, the program includes a complete (though not consecutive) performance of Byrd's Mass for Four Voices. Byrd's mass movements are separated by In Nomines by Tallis and Ferrabosco. These are examples of an instrumental genre based on a liturgical cantus firmus, so they make suitable companions for Byrd's liturgical masterpiece. Special mention should be made of the relatively little known consort music of Robert Parsons, who seems to revel in abrupt contrasts, an almost rowdy vehemence, and daunting metric complexity that poses formidable challenges to the players and delight for the listeners.

The performances here are beautifully expressive and animated while at the same time poised and flawlessly balanced. Consort music is primarily intended for the delectation of the players rather than the entertainment of an audience. It is somewhat like a private conversation among friends. These performances demonstrate that it is possible to be edified and moved by hearing the conversation. The players of Phantasm have a gift of engaging the listener with their warm tone, phrasing that is veritably vocal in quality, and a musical coherence that carries the listener through each work performed. They are clearly one of the finest viol consorts currently active. Their consummate artistry and ability to communicate in genres that many regard as rarefied and esoteric will win over connoisseurs and the more general listener alike. © 2015 American Record Guide

 


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