The Cavalier composer William Lawes painted his ‘distracted times’ in works that combine a controlled, courtly style with wayward invention – unsettling key changes, Caravaggian chiaroscuro, mordant dissonances and chromaticisms. These rich-textured consorts fuse knotty fantasies, wistful airs and sultry pavans echoing Dowland’s doleful Lachrymae, and pre-echoing Deep South blues. They also reflect the melancholy spirit of their age, its shadow only fleetingly fading into moments of serene light.
Phantasm and organist Daniel Hyde capture the mercurial nature of the music in these poised, erudite accounts, which include some unusual versions not previously available on CD. The players animate Lawes’s stately dances with fleet rhythms, elucidate his dark counterpoint and create an aptly vaporous quality in his more haunting, ethereal pieces: On the Playnsong, the sublime Fantazy a6 (T.18) and the elegiac, final Inominy. The consort sound is luminescent, with treble viols recreating the vocal quality for which the instrument was so valued in its heyday. Above all, Dreyfus and his colleagues show the viol’s ability to convey, as the French Baroque theorist Marin Mersenne put it, ‘the most intimate nuances…of grief and joy’. Linn’s surround-sound allows you to wallow in the midst of it all.
Among the competition, Fretwork and organist Paul Nicholson’s recordings of Lawes on Virgin Veritas are also compelling, in bigger and more opulent sound.