Phantasm and Tenebrae at the Lammermuir Festival

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Saturday’s daring combination – back-to-back choral and viol-consort music by Orlando Gibbons – took place up the road in Haddington’s larger St Mary’s Church, and the concert’s radiant simplicity and glowing consonant harmonies felt like a bracing contrast to the thorny complexity of the Ligeti, although there were pleasing connections too in Gibbons’s intricate counterpoint. Six-piece viol consort Phantasm and the eight voices of Nigel Short’s Tenebrae delivered impeccable, exquisite performances, breathing and flowing together with near miraculous ensemble – how they managed to sculpt their closing chords with such microscopic finesse without someone directing remains a mystery – and an astonishingly pure sense of intonation, to which St Mary’s church acoustic added a gentle bloom of resonance. But despite their astonishing clarity and precision, these were far from cold performances: with a judicious bit of viol vibrato here and there, and individual singers swelling from Gibbons’s textures as their lines elaborated, they were rich, warm and thrillingly expressive. Their “See, see the word is incarnate” felt almost like a miniature opera, and they savoured every harmony in their closing, caressing “The Silver Swan”, achingly beautiful. 

Leo Hintermayer