Mr. William Byrd (1540-1623) was indeed a "serious fellow" who took life very earnestly-according to Henry Peacham Byrd was "naturally disposed to Gravitie and Pietie", and it is of little surprise that the timbre ejaculations of the viol consort, considered so important at the time for those aspiring to virtue and felicity (read: upper crust society), would appeal to his intellectual, melancholic, and pietistic leanings. For 40 years he labored over these works, listed as 27 on this disc but absent numerous incomplete, reconstructed, and spurious manuscripts. Anyone thinking of Byrd primarily as a purveyor of harpsichord or choral music will be mightily surprised at what we have here. For all practical purposes we have the "complete" viol consort music in authentic readings, filling out a generous one-second-short-of-eighty-minutes disc that simply overflows with Byrdian abundance. Byrd's music abounds with references to primarily liturgical material but also does not neglect the "popular" aspects of the day, and also delves very deeply into pure instrumental abstraction as well, perhaps the most rewarding music on the disc, like the three-voiced fantasies, unbelievable excursions on polyphonic splendor that sound as if twice the instruments were playing.
Phantasm is an award-winning viol consort formed in 1994, and is comprised of some of the best players in the world, from all over the world. Their sound is soft and luxuriant, beautifully captured by Linn engineer Philip Hobbs at Merton College Chapel at Oxford. Superb notes and a well-designed SACD package (and viols sound just fantastic in surround sound) round out a wonderful production. For sound, performances, and generous content, this is the Byrd viol album to own.