Appealing renditions of these same works typical of the art of the English viol have already been offered by the ensemble Fretwork [CD Virgin]. Phantasm, led by Laurence Dreyfus (whom the excellent Sarah Cunningham joins for the five-part consorts, three quarters of the disc) need not envy them at all. Here the articulative precision highlights the polyphonic complexity of these dreamy pavans and vibrant fantasies. The viol players of Phantasm succeed in creating an impression of ceaseless new melodies and new beginnings, and the result never stops seducing the ear.
To be sure, the ensemble's sonority is less silken, less comfortable than the one produced by Jordi Savall's Hesperion XXI in this repertoire, but the acidity of the treble viols countering the hollow depths of the basses emits a more distinctly English and aggressive humour which prevents Lawes' works from sinking into monotonous melancholy. Certain movements (such as the first Fantasy) attain a realm of magic that allows one to guess what Purcell will do with this combination.A feast for viol fanatics.