Phantasm - Dowland: Lachrimae - Gramophone

Followers of Phantasm will be shedding tears of joy at the news that Dowland’s Lachrimae has won this year’s Early Music Award. The critical reception since its release has been universally glowing, and, it should be said, some of the most perceptive insights came from our own Lindsay Kemp, writing in July 2016. Phantasm is no stranger to the Gramophone Awards, having been a frequent finalist in both the Early Music and Baroque Instrumental categories as well as a previous winner of both awards for its recordings of Gibbons (2004) and Purcell (1997). Among Phantasm’s defining strengths are the clarity, vision and determination of its leader, Laurence Dreyfus. Blessed with a formidable intellect, acute musical sensibilities, insatiable curiosity and a measure of self-belief, he chose to challenge an already crowded field of professional viol consorts specialising in the Elizabethan and Jacobean repertoires by putting together a crack ensemble of players after his own heart who could play as one and with whom he could develop freshly informed performances of the highest calibre.

Over the years, Dreyfus’s gifts for teaching and research made him welcome in some of the finest British and American academic institutions where the marriage of musical performance and scholarship is encouraged. In that environment, musicians like Dreyfus are encouraged to delve deeper, to test and refine their interpretations before committing them to disc, a luxury most professional performers can ill afford. This approach is precisely what marks out Phantasm’s Dowland recording from many of those issued from the mid-1980s onwards. Phantasm inevitably stands on the shoulders of its predessors, relying on Lynda Sayce and David Pinto’s 2004 Fretwork edition of the music and Peter Holman’s indispensable 1999 handbook, Dowland: Lachrimae (1604). Another veteran of a previous Lachrimae recording, the lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, makes a thoughtfully judged contribution to this disc.

Lindsay Kemp’s assessment is worthy of reprise: ‘Phantasm’s performances are totally convincing and absorbing. Drawing richly on their depth, intensity and homogeneity of tone, their acuity to the music’s ever-active emotional flux leaves them unafraid to use forceful gestures of articulation and dynamics to make a point.’

01 October 2017