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Orlando Gibbons - Consort for Viols - Phantasm

Orlando Gibbons

Consort for Viols


Avie AV0032

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Orlando Gibbons
Orlando Gibbons
The CD, Consorts for Viols was put out on the Avie label and made possible by Magnatune. The performers are the viol quartet Phantasm and two guest artists, Susanna Pell and Asako Morikawa.

The viol, in its nature, is a chamber instrument. It is not unlike the cello, yet its differences are pronounced when one takes a close look at the two instruments.

The viol has a rounder shape than the cello and has six strings instead of four. The playing techniques of the instruments are different. One of the most pronounced differences is in the way the bow is held. On a cello the bow is held with the strings facing downwards and the player's hand is at the very end of the bow. The viol's bow strings, on the other hand, face upwards and the player's hand is positioned somewhere near the end but closer to the middle.

Treble, Tenor and Bass Viols
Because of its internal makeup, the viol has been considered only suitable for chamber music. Phantasm is definitely such an ensemble; yet the way their instruments are projected on the recording, the listener is forced to think of the viol as capable of something more.

Phantasm, on their recent release Consorts for Viols, play a wide variety of music by the English composer Orlando Gibbons. They begin with the Fantasias. A fantasy, or fantasia, is an work with an improvisational quality that is spun out of a theme or motive. The first fantasia that Phantasm plays is Fantasia V. It has a quick, lively beginning then slows down to sober, sliding notes and returns again to a mood like the beginning one. Fantasia VI features solo entries in all the viols and then a dialogue- like section between the tenor and bass.

Fantasia III is especially noted for the interweaving counterpoint in its middle. This characteristic can be seen to a certain degree in all of the music on this recording and definitely proves Gibbons's outstanding ability in choral music in which one can hear counterpoints of all kinds interwoven in the vocal parts. All six fantasias are played as well as the four fantasies that are heard later on the CD.

The fantasies are very fugal in character. The fugue was rather a new, innovative genre during Gibbons's time. A fugue features a subject stated solo followed by the subject restated in all of the other voices whilst each voice, after it states the subject, continues on with free material.

The subject of Gibbons's Fantasy I is composed of long, repeated notes. A second theme seems to appear in the middle of the work that is characterized by upwards rising notes. This is similar to the ricercar, a kind of fugue that would have been popular during Gibbon's day; it was used mainly for liturgical purposes and featured more than one subject. Fantasy III's theme is so characteristic of the rhythmic tendency during the Renaissance with its short-long beat. Fantasy IV has a rather regal theme stated solo in the tenor, and the middle of this piece features falling arpeggio's.

After the Fantasies, come two anthems originally written for chorus but which Phantasm plays on viols. The second, Hosanna to the Son of David has upwards scales in it. These were probably meant as word painting for the text “Hosanna in the highest”. Phantasm does a good job of evoking the mood of an organ and singers that would have normally been used for these anthems.

Two popular tunes used as a ground bass for variations are Go from my Window and Peascod Time, originally written as virginal music. Gibbons's writing in these two pieces can be technically challenging, but the violists of Phantasm tackle it with great clarity and distinctness of line. Both tunes have a country sound reflecting their ground basses.

Special mention must be made about the Salisbury Pavan. This pavan was originally written by Gibbons's for the virginal, and in it he placed one note that went just a little too low for that instrument.(The note was AA; virginals generally went to C.) This song incited the expansion of the range of the virginal. Since that time, the range of the keyboard has continued to be expanded through adventuresome composers taking - as we may think of it - the lead from Orlando Gibbons.

In the booklet notes, Laurence Dreyfus, the director, specifically mentions that this work and its “excruciatingly expressive” dissonances are “so beloved of Glenn Gould”. This is not the only time he mentions the Canadian pianist. Again, he writes of Gould's praise of Gibbons's anthems and how he wore out three recordings of those works. He states that viol players and Glenn Gould do have something in common.

The clarity with which the performer's of Phantasm bring out the complex lines of Gibbons's music is exemplary. They are able to create a structural sense of rhythm without having a clear meter, especially in the Fantasias and Fantasies. Technically they keep a clean sound, and musically they bring out the lines of the phrase structures.

This CD won the 2004 Gramophone Early Music award, and a bonus track is available at

The words for The Silver Swan, a part-written song for voices conditioned by Phantasm for viols and played on this CD are:

The silver swan, who living had no note,
When death approach'd, unlock'd her silent throat;
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more.
Farewell, all joys; O Death, come close mine eyes;
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.

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Track Listing

Orlando Gibbons
Consort for Viols
Laurence Dreyfus, treble viol and director
Wendy Gillespie, treble viol
Jonathan Manson, tenor viol
Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, bass viol

    Fantasies a6
  1. Fantasia V (MB 35)
  2. Fantasia VI (MB 36)
  3. Fantasia III (MB 33)
  4. Fantasia I (MB 31)
  5. Fantasia II (MB 32)
  6. Fantasia IV (MB 34)
    In Nomines a5
  7. In Nomine I (MB 27)
  8. In Nomine II (MB 28)

    Virginals Music a4
  9. Peascod Time (The Hunt's Up)
  10. Pavan Lord Salisbury
  11. Fantasia
  12. The Silver Swan

    Fantasies a3
  13. Fantasy I (MB I)
  14. Fantasy II (MB II)
  15. Fantasy III (MB III)
  16. Fantasy IV (MB IV)

    Anthems a6
  17. O Lord, in thy wrath rebuke me not
  18. Hosanna to the Son of David

    Dances and Divisions a6
  19. Pavan (MB 41)
  20. Galliard (MB 42)
  21. Go from my Window (MB 40)

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