Vivid performances from players and singers committed to projecting both text and music with character and imagination.
The latest release from the award-winning viol consort Phantasm sees them turning to the consort song repertory for the first time, with singular results. Geraldine McGreevy is a different type of singer from those normally heard in early music these days, her firm clarity and fast vibrato sounding rather more like the kind of voice one used to hear in the 1970s. Ian Partridge, of course was one of those voices (though not of that particular sort) and it is interesting to hear him again now, his easy tones sounding as instantly recognisable as they ever did. This suggestion of a throwback is not intended as a criticism, however; rather it is a recognition of the individuality that Phantasm bring to their music-making. Just as no other viol consort offers such a rich and vibrant instrumental sound, so there can be a tendency among many performers of consort songs to make the voice imitate the viol, recessing it in the texture and suppressing some of its natural expressiveness. Here the opposite approach holds sway: Phantasm, one feels, are really 'playing the words'. and with good reason. McGreevy, for one, is not going to pretend that she is anything other than a fine young singer with something to say of her own. She allows herself a little portamento from time to time, uses voice colour to good effect (for instance in contrasting 'Peace and quietness' and 'Terrors great' in Rejoice unto the Lord) and shows herself equally adept in lively rhythmic numbers such as Though Amaryllis dance in green and more elegiac songs such as Fair Britain Isle or the near-epic Lullaby my sweet little baby. Partridge has fewer songs to sing than McGreevy, but then he has the plum in Ye Sacred Muses, Byrd's great lament on the death of his teacher Tallis, which he delivers with simple feeling, yet adding one telling and memorable detail: a tiny extra note in the third-last phrase, the musical equivalent, it seems to me, of an emotional crack in the voice.