Subtle music from dark times: The Viol Consort Phantasm in the Palm Court

The US-American Laurence Dreyfus and his four comrades-in-arms from the viol consort Phantasm – Emilia Benjamin, Jonathan Manson, Mikko Perkola und Markku Luolajan-Mikkola – showed themselves in the Palm Court of the Orangerie in the New Garden to be especially sensitive interpreters of early music….

On the programme were viol consort pieces for three to five voices by William Byrd and the Italian Alfonso Ferrabosco. Both lived in London around 1588 and were put at risk as Catholics in Protestant England. Matthew Locke and Henry Purcell contributed to the musical life of London during the time of the disastrous fire (of 1666) and of the persecution of Catholics by Protestants. As so often happens in times of war, catastrophes and persecution, composers crafted effective works in which they gave musical shape to their hopes for a peaceful world, whether by the wordless if also profound musings of Byrd’s Mass, or with the elaborate and sonorously sensuous fantasies of Ferrabosco, Locke and Purcell.

Thanks to their admirable instrumental skill and great discipline, the ensemble Phantasm managed to offer interpretations marked by the most subtle dynamic shadings and lovely intensifications. Just as important: their joy in music-making, their pleasure in taking fast tempos and their explosive tone production which did not come amiss. This combination came clearly to fruition in the delicate quartet movements. The intonation was immaculate, in the slow-moving passages as much as in the more lively sections. Articulation was crisp, and phrasing meticulous and varied. The sonority was relatively gentle, echoing the fundamental characteristics of the instruments.

The public in the sold-out Palm Court followed Phantasm’s performance with keen interest and rewarded the artists with heartfelt applause. This earned the delighted audience an encore – a pavane by the Englishman John Jenkins – which encapsulated the musical and interpretative subtlety of the programme.

Klaus Büstrin

Read more online

Jonathan Walterspiel