PHANTASM - LAWES: THE ROYAL CONSORT - THE ARTS DESK
25 July 2015
The Arts Desk
Sublime viol music
"This is one of the greatest sets of instrumental dance music ever composed... on a par with Rameau's orchestral dances, even the waltzes of Johann Strauss Jr." Phantasm's Laurence Dreyfus claim is a bold one, but after gorging on 145 minutes of William Lawes' viol music I'm inclined to agree with him. However, Dreyfus's sleeve essay points out that actually dancing to these pieces would in many cases be impossible. Lawes's phrase lengths are often irregular, and the metre often changes without warning. The harmonies can sound disconcertingly modern. Two differently-scored versions of the Royal Consort survive, and Phantasm give us the edition for four viols and theorbo. The fruity, rich sound is something to savour, with Elizabeth Kenny's theorbo giving the rhythms extra definition. There's a tiny "Corant" in Lawes's Sett No. 1 where Kenny's guitar-like strumming gives the music an intoxicating punch. I keep returning to the 5th Sett's "Morriss", a 40 second slice of terpsichorean brilliance. It's difficult to sit still while listening to Lawes in extrovert mood; shoulders and feet will probably begin to twitch involuntarily.
As a bonus, Phantasm also give us three of Lawes's Consorts to the Organ. Daniel Hyde's flutey chamber organ blends wonderfully well with five or six viols, the group revelling in the music's otherworldliness. Chord progressions go in unexpected directions, and there's a contrapuntal fluency that dazzles in the faster movements. A magnificent collection; well documented, stunningly played and beautifully recorded.