Here's a splendid follow up to last year's Gramophone Award-winning Gibbons collection. Phantasm play with the kind of sympathetic interplay that you'd expect from a crack string quartet. The programme concept is a neat one: using the idea of the four temperaments to explore the music of four composers of the 16th century. At the heart of the programme is Byrd's four-part mass, superbly done.
The sophistication suggested by the title should not deter the listener. in the first place the term 'temperament' bears no relationship here to a particular manner of tuning the major scale: it refers back to the ancient theory of the fourhumours, or bodily fluids, responsible for conditions of the body and so, by extension for personalities. Laurence Dreyfus suggests that each composer represented personifies one of these 'temperaments': Parsons the choleric, Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder the calm phlegmatic, Tallis the sanguine, and Byrd the passionate melancholic.
Admitting, however, that personalities are far more complex than that, what this recording really demonstrates is the vast variety of colour and mood represented not only by each composer individually but also by the skill and beauty of the consort's interpretation. The stately patterning of the pavans contrasts with the sprightly tossing, by one player to another, of small melodic fragments in other pieces.
The arrangement of the programme, too, is carefully planned: pitches, sometimes even themes, follow naturally one after another. A fine example is Ferrabosco's In Nomine I, with its theme of a rising minor scale, followed by the same scale in Byrd's Sanctus. The ingenious interspresing of movements from Byrd's four -part Mass is justifiable by his description of some of his works as suitable for 'voices or viols', though the plangent descending final phrases of the Agnus Dei call for the sung text to fulfil their ultimate purpose.
The players' contribution to the painting and mixing of humours is outstanding. They bring to life the importance of the viol consort in Elizabethan society, in teaching as well as entertainment for old and young. Did Prsons have the children of the Chapel Royal in mind with his Ut re mi fa so la? Or Tallis with his Solfing Song, or in the settings of familiar tunes, both sacred - the Ferrabosco, Tallis or Parsons In nomines - and secular, for example Parsons' brilliant Song called Trumpets? For insight as well as enjoyment, this recording is highly recommended.