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John Ward - Consort Music for Five and Six Viols

Imported ed.

Hybrid SACD

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Hybrid SACD - DSD, August 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

2010 sees Phantasm's debut on Linn Records, featuring the music of Jacobean composer John Ward, named as a Finalist in the Early Music category.

- Phantasm's illustrious recording career has resulted in the viol consort being repeatedly recognised at the Gramophone Awards since its debut in 1997, when the ensemble won Best Baroque Instrumental Recording.

- In 2004 and 2005 Phantasm's recordings of music by Gibbons and Jenkins were both named Finalists at the Gramophone Awards.

- This recording has already been awarded five stars and named a 'Choice' recording by BBC Music Magazine and won a Scherzo 'Excepcional' Award whilst also receiving many four star reviews.

- The nomination in the 2010 Gramophone Awards is further proof that Phantasm is a leading interpreter of Early Music.


This is a gem. It's the first complete recording of the consort music for five and six viols by the little-known Jacobean composer, John Ward. Ward was born around 1589 and lived only until 1638; he may not have been a 'professional composer' in the usual way that was understood at the time. There is only one other CD dedicated to this somewhat enigmatic yet warm figure, 'Upon A Bank With Roses' by the Rose Consort Of Viols on Cpo (999928).

Even were this not the case, this superb SACD from Linn featuring Phantasm, one of the most accomplished ensembles in the field, has done Ward's music proud. Phantasm is Laurence Dreyfus (director and treble viol), Wendy Gillespie (treble viol), Jonathan Manson (tenor viol), Markku Luolajan-Mikkola (bass viol). On this recording they also play with Emilia Benjamin (tenor viol) and Mikko Perkola (bass viol). Founded by Dreyfus (who also wrote the liner notes for this CD), their inspiration was the great string quartets of our times. The ensemble's intention is to play the lovely repertoire from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries with as much passion and bravura as do the quartets their own (later) repertoire. One would have to add two other qualities which make the playing styles and approaches of Phantasm so special: technical prowess and insight. Both are evident aplenty on this collection of Ward's consort music.

In the first place, their technique and attention to every detail and nuance of tempo, texture, melody and instrumental balance is excellent. The tailing off of the Fantasias 6 and 7 for five viols [tr.s 14, 15], for instance, is a study in concentration. But over and above this, the attack, measured zest and sense of the pieces' structure and architecture are exemplary throughout.

Then Phantasm has an unsurpassed ability to draw from each short piece (none is longer than four and a half minutes, though the recording is a generous 78 minutes in toto) not only its essence. That is, the way in which a Fantasia develops melodically - sometimes from a mere germ - into bold and passionate, sometimes almost rhetorical, statements; which are then made to seem utterly natural and to be taken almost for granted. But also the attributes each work needs to achieve its effect: these are textural aspects; attributes of rhythm (listen to the sprung pace and simple canon throughout the Fantasia 4 for six viols [tr.5], for example); and of some rarely very adventurous, but nevertheless quite persuasive tonalities. At times, these have an air of romanticism, certainly wistfulness and yearning. But never with self-conscious angst or dolefulness. Phantasm achieves this with a unity amongst the players and an authenticity that convinces us well that such an approach is consistent with likely performance practice four hundred years ago.

Above all, perhaps, Phantasm has successfully captured the confidence with which Ward so obviously worked. His unhurried and unemphazised cadences and turns of melody indeed need no underlining. Like a painter content with a palette of earth tones, Ward's music seems to emerge, rather than need to be projected. Yet there is no sense of uniformity in any aspect of Phantasm's playing. It's all laid before us with great aplomb. But somehow not to take or leave it: the players' engagement with every piece in its turn (there are 20 Fantasias, and three In Nomines on this recording) is compelling in part because we are keen to hear what comes next. But more because the playing is centred in the moment. Each bar is an end in itself.

Nor are the obvious Italian influences (particularly the styles of polyphony and counterpoint - as in the First Fantasia for five viols [tr.9], for example) overplayed. No self-consciousness. Just the beauty of the melody and harmonies.....

25 January 2010
Mark Sealy

A contemporary of the better-known Orlando Gibbons and William Lawes, John Ward (c. 1589-1638) served as both attorney and musician for Henry Fanshawe, an official of the Exchequer. It seems in 17th-century England, the long-standing rivalry between the law and music- the families of Telemann, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky, among others, wanted their boys to pursue the law rather than waste their time on a musical career-wasn't yet in force. In any event, Ward is just now getting some of the attention traditionally lavished on 'professional' musicians (ones who held court or ecclesiastical possessions) such as William Byrd.

Even by the standards of 17th-century English instrumental music, Ward's consort music is different, according to the notes to this recording written by Phantasm founder Laurence Dreyfus. Not as playful or witty as the works of Gibbons or Jenkins, Ward's pieces expand in a leisurely meandering fashion. This is especially the case with Fantasias No. 2 and 6 a6. (The 'a6''and 'a5' designations indicate whether the piece is for six or five viols.) They start in strict imitative counterpoint but then wander through sections that jog along in lively dance rhythms or slow down to an introspective calm.

In fact, many of the Fantasias have ties to dance forms, especially the stately pavane. But they also have very direct ties to the madrigal, of which Ward was a master. Four of the Fantasias carry the titles of Italian poems that would have been set as song and one, Fantasia No. 11 a5, bears the poem 'Cor mio' in its bass part. Dreyfus points out that the instrumentalists mimic the opening line of the poem-'Cor mio, deh, non lanquire' ('My heart, pray, do not pine')-right down to pauses at the two commas. These madrigal-inspired Fantasias also indulge in the sort of wild, heart-wrenching chromaticism that are the stock in trade of composers such as Gesualdo or Monteverdi.

So within the rather strict confines imposed by the whole consort (that is, a group of instruments all of one family), Ward manages to inject variety and interest that are pleasantly unexpected. Still, at a generous 78 minutes duration, this first complete recording of Ward's Fantasias should be sampled in stages. Enjoyable as it is, the music gets to be much of a muchness if listened to all at one sitting.

Phantasm, which recorded award-winning albums for Deutsche Grammophon but now works exclusively with Linn Records, is the right group for the assignment, bringing the requisite understanding and warmth to this music. They were recorded in the chapel of Wadham College at Oxford, a venue that imparts the right mix of airy ambience and intimacy-just about what you'd hear in the halls of one of the great homes of Renaissance England. For fanciers of 17th-century English music, this album is pretty much self-recommending.

22 January 2010
Lee Passarella
--Audiophile Audition

Beyond the occasional madrigal, we haven't heard much of John Ward's music on CD. As in its own day, it has until now remained the preserve of amateurs. Ward was a Jacobean 'gentleman' who published a single collection of madrigals in 1613 and left a body of consort music for four to six viols along with ayres for two bass viols, surviving in numerous 17th-century manuscripts, which Thomas Mace referred to as 'very great eminence and worth'.

Phantasm, in recording the works for five and six viols, has given us what we may hope is the first of two recordings of Ward's complete instrumental music. As an ensemble, the members of Phantasm perform with authority and exceptional musical awareness. They achieve a remarkable blend of instrumental timbres and breathe as one with their bows. The results on this disc are stunning; but, equally, the recording successfully captures individual voices, so much so that the listener feels almost part of the ensemble.

If not of the first rank, Ward's consort music is nevertheless well crafted and genuinely engaging. Most movements are broadly in three contrasting sections, the textures now imitative, then homophonic, often antiphonal (VdGS3 and DvGS7) and on occasion rhetorical (VdGS12). His themes are cleverly syncopated more often than not; the tonality deftly shifts between major and minor. His treatment of the cantus firmus in the three In nominees is masterful. But, perhaps best of all, are the chromatic passages positioned for maximum affect (VdGS2, 3, 7, 9), which leave the listener longing for more.

01 November 2009
Julie Anne Sadie --Gramophone

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Product details

  • Performer: Laurence Dreyfus (treble viol and director), Wendy Gillespie (treble and tenor viols), Jonathan Manson (tenor viol), Markku Luolajan-Mikkola (bass viol), Emilia Benjamin (tenor viol), et al.
  • Orchestra: Phantasm
  • Conductor: Laurence Dreyfus
  • Composer: John Ward
  • Audio CD (August 1, 2009)
  • Imported ed. edition
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Hybrid SACD - DSD
  • Label: Linn
  • ASIN: B002IKKKA0
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,266 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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