Renaissance composer Christopher Tye is remembered for his sacred choral music, particularly for the hymn tune Winchester Old, also known as While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks, but his instrumental works hold a special significance for being among the earliest examples of English chamber music. Tye's output has been criticized for being densely textured and loose in structure, and it has been compared unfavorably to the works of Tye's younger and more admired contemporary, William Byrd. Yet this album by the viol consort Phantasm demonstrates that Tye was capable, assured, and even daring in his contrapuntal invention and use of cross-relations for expressive effect, and it provides compelling evidence of Tye's musical sophistication. The In nomine, a form derived from the Benedictus of John Taverner's Missa Gloria Tibi, was particularly fruitful in Tye's hands, though the 21 examples on this program have a secular rather than liturgical feeling, perhaps suggesting their use as court music, far removed from any religious purpose. The other selections bear sacred titles as well, which seem to allude to underlying plainchants, though the technical difficulty of the music suggests that singing was never intended, and that the pieces were purely instrumental. Phantasm delivers polished sonorities and warm expressions, and the liveliness of the group's playing maintains interest, even though the overall mood is serious and often reflective.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson