Viol consort Phantasm, Magdalen College’s Consort-in-Residence since 2010, took audiences on a fascinating and engaging journey through 17th-century England on Friday, exploring works by Byrd, Gibbons, Purcell and lesser-known contemporaries with exceptional verve and panache. In their hands, these centuries-old pieces sounded unexpectedly fresh and alive, and the players showed the close-knit rapport you would expect from a consort together for nearly two decades.
The programme was largely fantasias, pavans and galliards, delivered in sparkling style, with some gloriously rich, lush sounds coming from all six players. The first half featured the contrasting styles of William Byrd, John Ward, John Jenkins and Williams Lawes, highlights of which were Jenkins’s richly contrapuntal Pavan No. 2 in F and Fantasy No. 6 in D, with their melodic lyricism, and the brasher sounds of Elizabethan ‘rebel’ Lawes, who delighted in shocking his listeners by pushing the boundaries of musical convention. This is evident in his Consort Sett VIII in G, which is by turns passionate, agitated, melancholic and joyful, throwing the listener from one emotion to another with barely a pause. With Phantasm’s bold and articulate interpretation, this was a thrilling lead-up to the interval.
The highlights of the second half were the Fantazia upon one note and In nomine by a 20-year-old Purcell, already showing the maturity that established him as one of England’s greatest composers. Here, his musical inventiveness was fully explored and delivered with a gusto that made for an exciting and joyful performance. Thomas Tomkins’s Fantasia, Pavan and Galliard provided a contrast with their minimalist approach, but it was their very simplicity that impressed.
The inclusion of the Oxford-born Orlando Gibbons was a nice touch, and his two six-part Fantasias, In nomine and Pavan and Galliard brought the evening to a lively conclusion, particularly the boisterous dance rhythms of the final number. A perfect finish.