Phantasm - William Byrd -

William Byrd's music for viol consort, relatively early in the history of the genre and lacking the chromatic strokes of that by Dowland, has received less attention than his choral masterworks that seem to embody the religious divisions of 17th century England. In fact it seems to resemble his choral music in its overall mood, which is sober, a bit inward, and intellectually rigorous. Even in dances rooted in popular origins Byrd subjects his themes to little contrapuntal complications. Musicologist Lawrence Dreyfus, leader of the multinational viol consort group Phantasm, suggests a detailed chronology for Byrd's consort music in his booklet notes but then ignores it in favor of a program mixed up by type. In short, Byrd wrote pieces based on sacred vocal models, some rather severe dance pieces, variation sets, and, later in life, some fantasias independent of vocal models. This recording has the restrained, slightly tortured quality that seems to slay British audiences every time and leave others wondering what the fuss is about, but there's no denying it's a more-than-competent complete survey of Byrd's consort music, brought in at just one second less than a CD's usual 80-minute limit, and that it has quite a deep, meditative quality if heard in the right frame of mind. The Super Audio sound from Germany's Linn label may be the main attraction; each viol seems to purr and to die away in a rainbow of colors.
29 September 2011