Dowland’s 1604 collection of 21 lachrymose dances and musical ‘tears’ (as he himself described them) is tinged throughout with melancholy – the same ‘humour of the night’ that pervades so many of the musical, literary and artistic works of his age. Dowland gives voice to his own dolorous spirit in an epigram on the collection’s title page – ‘He whom Fortune has not blessed either rages or weeps’ – and in his obsessive re-working of the relentless, four-note ‘falling tear’ motif that saturates the first seven pavans. The prevailing gloom is relieved by moments of light in some of the livelier dances: sinewy Almans and jaunty Galiards, evocatively named after sundry members of the gentility, Dowland’s patron, King Christian IV of Denmark, and even the notorious pirate Digory Piper.
Under the laser-sharp direction of Laurence Dreyfus, the viol consort Phantasm here offers the same flawless playing that has earned its members consistent, well-deserved accolades. Despite the brooding nature of the music, their sound is luminous and tempos are fluid, highlighting Dowland’s lyricism; indeed, many of these pieces began life as, or subsequently became, songs. The five viols are finely balanced, and if Elizabeth Kenny’s artfully played lute is a slightly blushing presence, the engineers have perhaps rightly avoided the temptation to boost its delicate sound.
Among the many memorable recordings of this collection are those by Fretwork, whose sound is richer, darker, with a closer perspective, and Hespèrion XX’s timeless classic, more deliberately ponderous than Phantasm’s subtly wistful accounts.
BBC Music Magazine (September 2016). p. 88