Perhaps because John Ward never enjoyed royal patronage in the Tudor court, his music has not been as familiar as that of contemporaries such as Byrd and Gibbons. The Loss has been ours – this revelatory disc contains 19 inventive fantasias in five and six parts, and three, more austere, ‘In nomines’, (lines woven round a melody from a Mass by John Taverner). Ward’s craftsmanship, if relatively conservative, is striking: seamlessly woven counterpoint enlivened by a contrasting light-footed up-beat dance (No. 3 a6); a strangely leisured wandering in and out of unexpected key-areas while studiously avoiding cadencing in any of them (No. 6 a6); contrasting consorts in dialogue (No. 3 a5).
Three fantasias have titles relating to their madrigal origins, reflected in shorter-breathed phrases as if sung to texts, a striking contrast to the long-sustained polyphony elsewhere. Another (No. 6 a5) opens with the tell-tale ‘long-short-short-long’ rhythm of the chanson – in all, remarkable variety within the limited colour of five/six viols.
Phantasm’s playing is impeccable, alternately exposing motifs and coalescing in sonorities all the richer for being so perfectly in tune. Their performance is supported by surround-sound recording, re-creating the warm acoustic of an Oxford Chapel. Tudor viol music seldom sounds better than this.
Performance: 5 stars
Recording: 5 stars