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Phantasm - William Lawes - VdGSA News


01 September 2012
Viola da Gamba Society of America
Elizabeth Macdonald

The release of a new recording by Phantasm seems to be an annual event, and with their association with Linn Records from Scotland, this is their third release in as many years. After the recordings of the consort music by John Ward and William Byrd, the listener has grown to expect thoughtful performances, with respect for scholarship and original sources, but which also have a personal point of view toward the music. The virtuosity of the performers is matched by the latest in recording technology. Certainly this recording will not disappoint.

The liner notes by Laurence Dreyfus with the Phantasm recording display his strong opinions about the music, but it is unusual to see them so personally expressed, almost as if one were overhearing the recording session. There are many interesting ideas that are not specifically musicological, more imaginative and programmatic. Of the G minor six-part Aire, he says "strife and the diffuse sounds of battle abound in the B section, and one senses the smell of muskets and roar of canons." In the Fantazia from the C minor five-part Set, "hopes are dashed in a cruel turn to darkness over a disturbing pedal...an obsessional cry for help."

The group plays the early version of the A minor Fantazy from the five-part Set, and it is good to have it recorded. Dreyfus describes the opening whole notes of the Aire from Set a5 in C minor as portraying the "low bow of the dancers before their patrons." In that case, they might have left out that measure on the repeat. There are many other ideas, some charming, some debatable, and though there will be many other ways to perform this music, this is a strong and fascinating approach.


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