Much has been written on this site extolling the brilliance of Orlando Gibbons' music, and this new recital by the viol consort Phantasm (celebrating its 10th anniversary) reaffirms such praise. It seems that no matter where Gibbons turned his attention--from numerous vocal settings to innovative complex keyboard works or ravishing consort music--he was a natural. Here is a selection of Fantasies and In Nomines Gibbons scored for three, four, five, and six viols, as well as an assortment of inspired transcriptions (by the group's director, Laurence Dreyfus) of some of the composer's more familiar keyboard and vocal works.
Dreyfus points out in the notes that unlike his equally celebrated contemporary William Byrd, whose consort settings remained primarily focused on exploiting tuneful popular dances of the day, Gibbons deliberately encouraged his performers to depart from those relatively safe parameters with settings intended to be performed without bar lines, resulting in often unpredictable, adventurous music making. As exemplified in the six-part first and fifth Fantasias, simple themes often evolve into richly luminous chromatic displays while singing harmonies frequently give way to irregular dissonance. And like the British ensemble Concordia (type Q2285 in Search Reviews), Phantasm's animated up-tempo performances of the four three-part Fantasies fully realize the wealth of lyricism typical of Gibbons' compositions.
Avie's sound is quite good--clear and detailed--and Dreyfus' informed notes feature many entertaining anecdotes. Incidentally, Concordia has recently released the promised second and final volume of its Gibbons consort music edition. Given the ensemble's aforementioned superb first entry, this will be of interest to all fans of the period and especially of the composer. However, for those looking for an excellent sampling of Gibbons (and perhaps prefer their consort settings without the unorthodox additional harpsichord continuo that Concordia often employs), Phantasm's recital certainly stands among the finest.