I doubt if there could be a better venue for this music; it certainly has the appropriate spirit of place. You may already know that Phantasm is a highly gifted six-player consort specialising in English music written in the tradition of music for viols during a 130 year period, starting roughly in 1550. John Taverner provided the initial inspiration for composers such as William Byrd, John Ward, John Jenkins and William Lawes, all of whom were represented in the first half of this splendidly atmospheric concert. The consort set A6 in G by the latter, in three movements listed as Paven, Fantazy, and Aire, was particularly impressive; and agreeing with the programme notes that Lawes had “extroverted brilliance”, I felt compelled to buy Phantasm's William Lawes CD in the interval.
The second half was as good - if not better - than the first. We nudged forward in time and were treated to works by Thomas Tompkins, then Henry Purcell and finally Oxford’s Orlando Gibbons. Purcell’s Fantazia upon One Note was indeed fantastic, and the following Nomine A6 was equally stunning for its combination of sadness and hope. Following deserved and enthusiastic applause, there was a sweet little encore (William Lawes again) - thank you.
Phantasm is led by director and treble viol player Laurence Dreyfus; Emilia Benjamin also plays treble, whilst Jonathan Manson and Susan Heinrich play tenor and Mikko Perkola and Markku Luolajan-Mikkola perform on the bass viols. They are all very talented. Dreyfus also wrote the comprehensive and helpful programme notes.
Phantasm is currently Consort-in-Residence at Magdalen, where they perform regularly and work with the Magdalen College Choir under its director, Daniel Hyde, who ably accompanied them on organ during this concert. They have a good website, www.phantasm.org.uk, where one can find out when their upcoming concerts are to be performed.
I came to the conclusion that viol consort music is the musical equivalent of a warm blanket, and started missing it as soon as I stepped out into the sub-zero temperatures of the High.