Though four generations older than Henry Purcell, Orlando Gibbons wrote a body of music for viols that exerts much the same fascination as Purcell's later and more familiar viol fantasias. Like Purcell, Gibbons died young – just in his 40s, he had a stroke on the morning of King Charles I's wedding, for which he was to have been the musical master of ceremonies.
Not everything on this CD was written for viols, however. The Silver Swan is a madrigal that many of us have sung, but it is unlikely that Gibbons would have minded hearing it played as an instrumental piece - he himself suggested that his madrigals could by played by viols instead. The anthems O Lord, in Thy Wrath and Hosanna to the Son of David also were written for voices. Peascod Time, the Pavan Lord Salisbury (a favorite of the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould), and the Fantasia all were written for the virginals. Not everyone will like this appropriation of repertoire, but it must be said that Phantasm makes Cinderella's foot fit the glass slipper perfectly.
Original works and arrangements alike draw the listener into Gibbons's intricate music as a moth is drawn to the flame. His rhythms can be as ambiguous as the most progressive jazz, and his polyphony as dense as the freeways around Los Angeles. One of the pleasures of his music, greatly facilitated by recordings, is to hear it from different "vantage points," if you will – fixing your attention first on one voice, then on another, then on a third, and so on. But that's not to say that his music is nothing more than a dry exercise in listening. The Salisbury Pavan and The Silver Swan are loaded with dignified pathos, and everywhere one hears a fine heart complementing the composer's fine mind.
Phantasm is an international quartet of viols whose members, although they started by playing modern instruments, were eventually drawn to the special timbre of the viol. Laurence Dreyfus and Wendy Gillespie are Americans; both play the treble viol. Jonathan Manson, who plays the tenor viol, was born in Scotland. Markku Luolajan-Mikkola is a Finn, and he plays the bass viol. They are joined by Pell and Morikawa in the five- and six-part works. These performances are gravely beautiful, intimate, and highly polished, with no loss of warmth. Dreyfus also wrote the excellent booklet notes. The repertoire might seem rarefied, yet both Gibbons and Phantasm are insidiously attractive! The recording was made in the Chapel of Merton College in Oxford, England in September 2003. Arne Akselberg's engineering is ideal.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle