Lawes: Consorts in four and five parts

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LABELS: Channel
WORKS: Consorts in four and five parts
Laurence Dreyfus and his viol consort Phantasm explore the extraordinary expressive puissance of 17th-century English composer William Lawes, in a disc featuring some of his four- and five-part consort music. Here are pieces of subtlety, full of passionate gesture and often deeply introspective. Individuality abounds, and I cannot readily call to mind an English composer during the 1620s and 1630s who had as rich a musical vocabulary as this composer whose life was cut short fighting for the royalist cause at the Siege of Chester in 1645.


What I like about Dreyfus’s approach is an absence of preciosity and rigid orthodoxy. Neither serves the cause of honest expression, and Dreyfus’s involvement in the details which adorn the composite structure of the music – very often far from straightforward – draws the listener into a world of sound which Dreyfus himself describes as ‘inscrutable, bizarre and anarchic’. For too long, English consort music has had a specialist image, seen as the preserve of the enlightened few, or an indulgence by rarified amateur gatherings in north Oxford. Phantasm’s spirited playing blows all these cobwebs away, and readers will find that they need no multi-syllable password to the wholehearted enjoyment of this wonderful music. Nicholas Anderson