Review of Phantasm at the Helsinki Festival

The world-famous viol consort, Phantasm, are deeply attuned to their crystalline, warm and resonant sound-world. Despite the subtle emotional range of 17th-century viol music,one can experience its meanings in the here-and-now as a soft timbral bath or seek allusions from the pleasures of the past. Each of the fantasies, pavens, and ayres by William Lawes remained true to character, at the same time that one also heard passing chromatic shadows, melancoly repeated figures and darkly descending steps. The Fantasies by Henry Purcell provided a greater sense of summarising within the tradition of skilful contrapuntal composition. The pieces exist in weird, multi-faceted atmospheres that disperse in different directions. Full of joy and tranquillity, the fantasies recall Bach's Art of Fugue and late Beethoven, in which the imagination is limited only by its own autonomous rules. There have been complaints that there wasn't a good composer in England for another 200 years after Purcell, but a genius of this magnitude is not born every day. Phantasm combined an evocative and transparent sound with seamlessly varied gestures. The shadings in the Purcell Fantasies were a particular revelation. They arrived without explanation and disappeared just as mysteriously. Even when listening to the viols tuning, one grapsed a direct connection between the listener and a tonal miracle that dispensed with either artificial amplification or equalising equipment. Having tuned in to the right frequency, one is intoxicated by the shimmering and deeply satisfying tone of the viols.

 

Date: 

Aug 1999

Author: 

Jukka Isopuro

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