Lawes Royal Consort

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Gramophone Editor’s Choice (June 2015)
Winner of 2015 Chamber Music Recording of the Year – Limelight Magazine (Australia)
BBC Music Magazine Award nomination for Chamber Music (January 2016)
ICMA (International Classical Music Awards) 2016 Finalist for Baroque Instrumental Music Award
Gramophone 2016 Nomination for Baroque Instrumental Award

Phantasm  
Laurence Dreyfus
, director
with
Daniel Hyde, organ
Elizabeth Kenny, theorbo

Recording Date: August 2013 and August/Sept 2014

Described as ‘one of the greatest collections of ensemble dance music ever composed', Lawes' Royal Consort is full of astounding moments of striking musical invention. Guest musicians Elizabeth Kenny on theorbo, Emily Ashton on tenor viol and organist Daniel Hyde join Phantasm to honour the celebrated English Renaissance composer. This sublime collection boasts a range and depth of expression, which excites both mind and body through Lawes' startlingly individual pieces.

This recording is the first complete recording of Lawes' version of the Royal Consorts for four viols and theorbo. Phantasm, under the direction of Laurence Dreyfus, presents a passionate and insightful look into this adventurous music. The result is a rich and warm recording of technical brilliance that takes the listener deep into the harmonically rich world of Lawes.

Phantasm's previous recording of Lawes, Consorts to the Organ, was both a Gramophone Awards finalist and a BBC Music Magazine Award nominee in 2013.

The Gramophone Award-winning Phantasm celebrates William Lawes with a sublime collection of premiere recordings with guest musician Elizabeth Kenny.


Lawes's Royal Consort was highly regarded during the time of Charles I, as a mature example of its composer's compositional gifts and quixotic musical personality. Listeners familiar with his music will know what to expect. Those who aren't will discover in The Royal Consort a kind of early 17th century equivalent of Ravel's waltz works: part dance, part parody, after repeated hearing as witty as upon an initial, superficial acquaintance it is compulsively tuneful. Though it contains only dances and no fantasias, the spirit of the English fantasia informs every dance through its composer's whimsy, which sometimes appears as fewer or extra measures than expected to oddly trip up the meter, as sudden and wholly unanticipated modulations, off-kilter canonic entries, or the introduction of brief motifs that resemble barnyard sounds.

Lawes composed two versions of The Royal Consort. (The title doesn't indicate approval by the King, though Lawes was a favorite of his. Rather, it was added after the fact, when the English Civil War broke out, and everybody was taking sides.) One, for four viols and theorbo, is the version recorded here for the first time. The other, which has been assumed to follow it, has two violins, two bass viols, and two theorbos, with several musical additions: four fantasias to lead off the score, and four lighter dances. The liner notes argue persuasively that the viols-and-theorbo version is superior, a point I've noticed in concert performances, though lacking the obviously far greater familiarity Phantasm has with the works. Lawes in a word regularized his music in the violin version, removing some of its quirky humor and character, as well as thickening its textures in a way that harmed the clarity of its counterpoint.

The performances are exemplary. I've commented in past reviews of Phantasm about the broad-breathed span of their bowing and attention to rhythmic detail. Both are much in evidence here, as is their ability to keep each musical line distinct in both the richest chords and most complex imitative passages. They play with the kind of ensemble awareness that only comes with long practice and great familiarity, not merely with the music but with one another's music making. It is no exaggeration to say that as soon as this set finished, I set it to play again, and not just because of the music, either. To listen to Phantasm is to enjoy one of life's fine musical pleasures.

Mention must be made as well of the essay by Laurence Dreyfus, enclosed with the set. These are too accomplished to refer to as liner notes. Some musical analysis of favorites, discussions of each of the dance types, an examination of Lawes's musical style and the work's two versions, finely descriptive writing, historical details, Burney bashing: it's got it all.

Previously, Phantasm recorded the eloquent Consorts to the Organ-a work which apparently bypassed the radar of everyone here at Fanfare-on Linn CKD 399. That disc included as much as one CD could hold, with the rest, ten pieces in all, added to this 2-CD set. Phantasm has also chosen to include three dances that were rejected by Lawes for The Royal Consort, for elements that kept them below the extremely high standards he set himself for the work. The result are two very full discs that make extremely fine listening, and just secured itself a position in my current Want List. Well done.

Barry Brenesal, Nov 2015 - published in Fanfare Magazine

Die Viola da gamba war eines der wichtigsten Instrumente der Renaissance. Sie wurde hauptsächlich im Ensemble gespielt; das Gambenconsort, bestehend aus Gamben in verschiedenen Stimmungen, war weit verbreitet. Im 17. Jahrhundert wurde sie dann in Frankreich und Deutschland immer öfter als Soloinstrument benutzt. Vor allem in England blieb das Gambenconsort unvermindert populär, und seit der Jahrhundertwende wurde Consortmusik nicht nur am Hofe, sondern auch in bürgerlichen Kreisen gespielt. Daraus lässt sich die grosse Zahl an Sammlungen mit Consortmusik erklären. Zu den wichtigsten Komponisten solcher Musik zählte William Lawes. Das Ensemble Phantasm hat sich schon mehrmals mit ihm beschäftigt; 2012 erschien eine CD mit 'Consorts to the Organ'. Diesmal ist es die Sammlung 'Royal Consort', die aufgezeichnet wurde. Obwohl die Musik für ein Gambenconsort grundsätzlich im 'stile antico' der Renaissance verwurzelt ist und englische Komponisten der neuen musikalischen Mode aus Italien skeptisch gegenüberstanden, werden Elemente des neuen Stils Schritt für Schritt in das traditionelle Repertoire einbezogen. Diese Suiten - oder 'Setts', wie sie genannt werden - enthalten einen Basso-continuo-Part; das lässt auf einen wachsenden Einfluss des italienischen Stils schliessen. Lawes war ein eigenwilliger Komponist, und das kommt hier in der Harmonie, im melodischen Verlauf und in der rhythmischen Struktur zum Ausdruck. Der Leiter des Ensembles, Laurence Dreyfus, sieht auch Einflüsse der Volksmusik, und obwohldiese Musik nicht als Tanzmusik gemeint war, glaubt er, dass man sie trotzdem so spielen sollte. Übrigens gibt es diese Suiten in zwei Besetzungen: mit Violinen oder mit Diskantgamben in den Oberstimmen. Dreyfus behauptet, Phantasm lege hier dieerste Aufnahme mit Diskantgamben vor. Diese Sammlung ist faszinierend und unterscheidet sich von den meisten Werken für ein Gambenconsort. Phantasm legt hier eine brillante Interpretation vor, die extravertierter ist als was man vielleicht erwartet. Es ist einfach unmöglich, sich hier zu langweilen.

Apr 2016 - published in Toccata

This is the first complete recording, in the original version for four viols and theorbo, of the ten 'Setts', or suites, that make up the Royal Consort by English cavalier William Lawes. Inspired by the rhythms of dance, both courtly and rustic, the music swaggers and yearns, sparkles and sulks. Sinewy almans and sprightly corants give way to wistful sarabands and brooding pavans, dripping with echoes of John Dowland's Lachrimae. Lawes surprises and shocks with his angular melodies, off-beat rhythms, wayward harmonies and mordant dissonances - the 17th-century's equivalent to late Beethoven. He finds a passionate advocate in Phantasm's director Laurence Dreyfus, who puts the Royal Consort on a par with the dance suites of Bach and Rameau, even the waltzes of Johann Strauss. The musicians respond to Lawes's complex and variegated emotions with playing by turns buoyant and vigorous, graceful and serene. They delight, too, in his quirky wit: listen, for example, to their playful, jabbing syncopations in the first Aire from the opening Sett, or to the madcap Morriss dance and 'barnyard noises' (quips Dreyfus) in Sett No. 6.

The exuberance of the Royal Consort is offset by the darker, more introspective, tone of the Consorts to the Organ -intricate musical tapestries in five or six parts, sonorously coloured by the addition of a chamber organ. Here, the players discourse with subtle rhetoric and high seriousness, underscoring the music's pervasive melancholy. Individual lines are delicately etched in the transparent acoustic, so that even in passages of the most complex polyphony, the sound is ever luminous.

Kate Bolton, Aug 2015 - published in BBC Music Magazine

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