John Ward: Consort Music for 5 and 6 viols

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The booklet notes for this Scottish audiophile release, perhaps surprisingly in view of American-British annotator and group leader Laurence Dreyfus' background in academic musicology, are models of their kind. They make the best possible case for the viol music of early seventeenth century composer John Ward, who usually plays third or fourth fiddle (or viol) to Gibbons, Dowland, Purcell, and even John Jenkins among general listeners and specialists alike. In both his prose (given in English only) and his interpretations, Dreyfus and his Phantasm consort capture the pleasantly meandering quality of Ward's viol pieces, which lack the melancholy of Dowland's, the pungent and daring dissonance of Gibbons', or the general brilliance of Purcell's. "With its obsessive love of interrupted cadences," Dreyfus wrote, "this is music which longs for 'home' while ensuring that it won't return any time soon." Each piece seems to wander into a maze of increasingly chromatic material, with only sparingly used madrigal-like unisons or dance rhythms as signposts. Eighty minutes of these, which surely would never have been played in Ward's own time, is a long haul, but complete recordings of the group are rare or nonexistent, and this beautifully performed disc is a must for collections centering on the English Golden Age. Best of all is the Super Audio sound. No details about location, technique, or technology are given in the packaging, but the recording speaks for itself with startling clarity, intimacy, and detail, all without any trace of extraneous noise.

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