The four 'temperaments' once belived to define human character are the starting point for this cleverly devised sequence of works by a quartet of Elizabethan composers: the 'melancholic' William Byrd, the unruly 'choleric' Robert Parsons, the 'phlegmatic' Ferrabosco the Elder and the 'sanguine' optimist Thomas Tallis. Phantasm structures the programme with an instrumental transcription of Byrd's Mass for Four Voices, interwoven with consort In nomines and framed by a sequence of dances, variations and folk-inspired numbers.
The spare, pellucid writing of Byrd's Mass translates beautifully to the weightless, delicate-sounding viols, their subtle hues and veiled colours well suited to this intensely private and introspective music. With just one instrument to a part the account has an intimacy and lyricism that choral performances often lack, while its very wordlessness is a moving reminder that such a Mass could only have been celebrated in secret by Catholic recusents. The members of Phantasm convincingly communicate the text's rhetoric and potency- to sublime effect in the Agnus Dei.
Byrd's melancholic temperament is balanced by music of exuberant high spirits and daring virtuosity, all of which is rendered with admirable panache. Musical lines are gracefully shaped and articulated, the internal balance is perfectly judged, as is the warm and detailed recorded sound.