William Lawes: Consorts to the Organ


Chamber Music Choice (September 2012) BBC Music Magazine
BBC Music Magazine Award Nomination (January 2013)
Gramophone Award Finalist for Baroque Instrumental Music (July 2013)
’168 Best Classical Music Recordings’ (The Telegraph)
Five stars in The Irish Times, The Telegraph, Choir & Organ, BBC Music Magazine and Klassisk

Recording Date: 30th August - 1st September 2011
Recording Location: St Martin's Church, East Woodhay (Berkshire), UK
Engineer: Philip Hobbs
Assistant Engineer: Robert Cammidge
Post-Production: Julia Thomas at Finesplice
Cover painting: William Lawes (oil on canvas), follower of Anthony van Dyck, (1599-1641) / Faculty of Music Collection, Oxford University / The Bridgeman Art Library


William Lawes’s music is certainly an acquired taste. But once acquired it can easily turn into addiction. It pulls you into a shadowy emotional world, full of wayward fantasy and dancing, courtly gravity. Often the music is touched with John Dowland’s melancholy, but clothed in a fascinating, intricate weave that Dowland never achieved. Lawes had a short but intense life. He was killed in 1645 aged 43 at the battle of Chester, where he fought on the Royalist side (“slain by such whose wills were laws”, said an epitaph, which must win the prize for the most lugubrious pun ever).
Charles I mourned the man he called the “Father of Music”. Lawes’s genius is best revealed in the 10 Consorts to the Organ. They are written for a family or “consort” of those grave, reedy-toned bowed instruments known as viols, together with a small organ. Laurence Dreyfus, a brilliant writer on music as well as a fine viol player, leads a performance of seven of them with the viol consort Phantasm. It is worth comparing this recording with one made 10 years ago by the Catalan group Hesperion XXI (still available on Alia Vox AV9823A+B). This has all 10 sets, which for an addict like me is a strong point in its favour. And it reveals Lawes’s sonorous magic especially well. You can really savour the delicious low tangle of the bass and tenor viols. Nevertheless, this new recording wins the palm. The balance between viols and organ is far superior, and the group is more attuned to the emotional extremes under the music’s grave surface. Their performance of the Aire from the Set a6 in G is nearly twice as fast as the Catalans’, and is gripped by an astonishing, stinging intensity.

Ivan Hewett, Aug 2012 - published in The Telegraph

The Consorts to the Organ, written in the 1630s at the court of Charles I, are reckoned the pinnacle of Lawes’s artistic achievement, intended not for court spectacle but for performance in the king’s private apartments. They are also, as Phantasm’s director Laurence Dreyfus puts it in a sparky programme note, an acquired taste: hushed, alienating, restless, zany, combative, and melancholy. Yet once you embark, it’s hard to resist the pastoral airs, anguished pavans and ever-unravelling fantasies of which each set consists. This internationally acclaimed viol ensemble, with organist Daniel Hyde, bring all to shadowy life, the immediacy and intimacy captured expertly the Linn engineers. Give this music your full attention – and be astonished.

Fiona Maddocks, Jul 2012 - published in The Observer

Julius Hintermayer