Phantasm - Lawes: The Royal Consort - BBC Music Magazine
Performance: 5 stars
Recording: 5 stars
This is the first complete recording, in the original version for four viols and theorbo, of the ten 'Setts', or suites, that make up the Royal Consort by English cavalier William Lawes. Inspired by the rhythms of dance, both courtly and rustic, the music swaggers and yearns, sparkles and sulks. Sinewy almans and sprightly corants give way to wistful sarabands and brooding pavans, dripping with echoes of John Dowland's Lachrimae. Lawes surprises and shocks with his angular melodies, off-beat rhythms, wayward harmonies and mordant dissonances - the 17th-century's equivalent to late Beethoven. He finds a passionate advocate in Phantasm's director Laurence Dreyfus, who puts the Royal Consort on a par with the dance suites of Bach and Rameau, even the waltzes of Johann Strauss. The musicians respond to Lawes's complex and variegated emotions with playing by turns buoyant and vigorous, graceful and serene. They delight, too, in his quirky wit: listen, for example, to their playful, jabbing syncopations in the first Aire from the opening Sett, or to the madcap Morriss dance and 'barnyard noises' (quips Dreyfus) in Sett No. 6.
The exuberance of the Royal Consort is offset by the darker, more introspective, tone of the Consorts to the Organ -intricate musical tapestries in five or six parts, sonorously coloured by the addition of a chamber organ. Here, the players discourse with subtle rhetoric and high seriousness, underscoring the music's pervasive melancholy. Individual lines are delicately etched in the transparent acoustic, so that even in passages of the most complex polyphony, the sound is ever luminous.