'Breathtakingly fine music-making'

Pearls of Polyphony
Phantasm (Laurence Dreyfus, Emilia Benjamin, Jonathan Manson, Markku Luolajan-Mikkola).
St. Mary of the Angels, May 3

St. Mary of the Angels was, from my seat at least, a near perfect venue for a concert by a consort of viols. This consort was the viol equivalent of a modern string quartet (two treble viols, one tenor viol and one bass viol), and the music moved from the Elizabethan of the 16th century through the years to the music of Bach in the 18th century. The viola de gamba started life in Spain in the 15th century but, by the Baroque era, had all but died out.

The interest in both early music and authentic practice developed rapidly in the late 20th century, and was embraced by enthusiasts of all shapes and abilities;  today the quality of the music-making has reached extremely high standards, allowing us to hear a range of "early" music as never before. 

Phantasm is a group of musicians from the very top drawer, and the music-making was breathtakingly fine. The Elizabethan period was highlighted by William Byrd, but the absolute highlight, for me, were the four Fantazias of 1680 by Henry Purcell – some of the last music written for the viol.

The concert ended with music that was not written for viol, but fascinating nonetheless; the music of J.S.Bach. First we heard three fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier arranged for quartet by Mozart, and, finally, four pieces from his Art of Fugue. Then an encore – an atypical piece from Domenico Scarlatti .  All in all, the finest viol playing I have ever heard in concert.

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Jonathan Walterspiel