Phantasm - Ward: Fantasies & Verse Anthems - BBC Music Magazine

Performance: 4 stars

Recording: 4 stars

Phantasm is simply the best viol consort around, and here they continue their exploration of English music from the 17th century. We have already had recordings from them of works by Gibbons, Jenkins, Lawes, Byrd, Locke and Purcell - as well as Ward's fantasias for five and six parts - and these four-part pieces complete the surviving music by Ward. They are combined here with some of Ward's anthems for voices and viols, which allows us to get a real sense of that composer's quiet ingenuity.

The danger with viol music is that since it is essentially 'players' music, all of the instruments rend to play all of the time: the result can be rather relentless. Not so here. Melodic shaping, changes of mood, and variations of styles and tempos are everywhere on display - from the characterful contrasts of Fantasia No. 2, to the delicately traced phrases of No. 3, and the astonishing soaring passages of No. 6. These players are so good they tend to overwhelm the choir (as in Praise the Lord), a problem that might have been ameliorated by more judicious recording. Even so, the all-male choir (boy choristers and men) has some good individual singers, at their best in the ingenious Down Caitiff Wretch and the exuberant This is a joyful, Happy Holy Day.

01 February 2015