Phantasm Magdalen College Choir Oxford - John Ward: Fantasie & Verse Anthems (2014)

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Phantasm, Magdalen College Choir Oxford - John Ward: Fantasie & Verse Anthems (2014)
EAC Rip | Flac (Tracks + cue + log) | 287 MB | MP3 320Kbps CBR | 146 MB | 1 CD | Full Scans
Genre: Classical | Label: Linn Records | Catalog Number: 427

Featuring ambitious and accomplished music for voices and viols, ‘Ward: Fantasies & Verse Anthems’ offers a privileged glimpse of a special moment in English music history.

The four-part viol fantasies complement Phantasm’s previous recording of Ward’s five- and six-part works and show an equally fluent and skilful style exemplifying Jacobean consort fantasy at its best.

The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford join Phantasm to perform Ward’s verse anthems which contain an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of textures and generous word painting amidst a polyphonic swirl of viols.

This recording is a fitting tribute to John Ward, whose efforts have been rediscovered in our own time and whose mellifluous music deserves a closer look.

Phantasm’s illustrious recording career has resulted in the viol consort being repeatedly recognised at the Gramophone Awards with a one Award and several ‘Finalist’ nods to its name.

Phantasm’s debut on Linn, ‘Ward: Consort music for five and six viols’ was named a ‘Choice’ recording by BBC Music Magazine whilst also receiving many five and four star reviews.

Phantasm has been widely acclaimed for its previous Linn recordings; ‘Byrd: Complete Consort Music’ was named BBC ‘Disc of the Month’ and ‘Lawes: Consorts to the Organ’ was nominated for both BBC and Gramophone Awards.

The award-winning ensemble has been applauded across the globe for its moving performances and is recognised as the most exciting viol consort active on the world scene today.

Critics have described their performances and recordings as 'intoxicating', 'revelatory', 'electrifying', 'interpretations pervaded by a truly burning spirit'.

The quartet’s international members (from Britain, Finland and the US) are based in Oxford and have toured extensively throughout Europe, North America, and East Asia. They are joined by Emily Ashton and Christopher Terepin for this performance.

Composer: John Ward
Orchestra/Ensemble: Phantasm, Magdalen College Choir Oxford


Reviews: Phantasm’s album of consort music for five and six viols by John Ward (Linn 339; reviewed in Fanfare 33:4) must have been successful enough to call for a revisit of that master. Here we have the result: a mix of consort fantasias with verse anthems, in which the consort is joined by the Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford, under Daniel Hyde’s direction.

You should know what to expect, assuming you’re familiar with that previous release. Ward’s wealthy patron, Henry Fanshawe, was an Italophile, but presumably preferred Roman musical models to more forward looking Venetian ones, for Ward was steeped in the by-then unfashionable Franco-Flemish tradition. As I wrote of his music in that earlier album, he emphasizes “somber moods and canonical procedures in long, flowing, metrically regular lines … postponing cadences as long as possible through contrapuntal, harmonic, and rhythmic manipulation.” It comes as no surprise that this preference works hand-in-glove with the opening to Prayer is an endless chain , where a succession of imitative points repeatedly postpone the opening line’s cadence. Elsewhere, though, there is a similar sense of an unhurried weave of parts not given to any change in musical tension, but only to passing madrigalisms that illustrate literary points.

The liner notes state that the C of E texts are upbeat rather than severe, which is not strictly true: Down, caitiff wretch has its share of Biblically-inspired trash-talking. But my point is that the music generally is far more severe than the texts, including the upbeat Praise the Lord, O my soul . Ward is at his most positive in several of the fantasias, such as the Fantasia 3 a4 (Viola da Gamba Society 23) and the Fantasia 6 a4 (VdGS 26). Even so, it appears to suit him only slightly more than Chesterton’s illustration of Blaise Pascal trying to dance as accompaniment to one of Edmund Bentley’s clerihews.

Phantasm’s performances do find plenty of life in Ward’s music, however. Their flexible phrasing, warm tone, and utter clarity between the parts brings warmth to even the most somber and stately of the composer’s fantasias. The efforts of Daniel Hyde and the Magdalen choristers are more difficult to evaluate. There are some attractive voices, and phrasing of the choir as a whole is excellent. Balance between the parts in This is a joyful, happy holy day is first-rate, and pacing is vigorous. But I have serious concerns about the sound on this release, and these prevent a full review of their efforts.

I don’t envy any engineering team trying to balance a viol consort, solo singers, and choir; but to do so in the Chapel of Magdalen College must have added yet another layer of difficulty to sort out. In any event, the issues were not resolved. When the consort is playing alone it sounds fine, and as much can be said about the massed choir. But when the boy soloists enter the picture, as they do in Praise the Lord, O my soul and Down, caitiff wretch , the consort swamps them. All the soloists sound in fact as though were distanced from the mikes, losing their tonal luster (though the basses suffer least, as you might expect). Needless to say, almost every word is lost as well.

The matter could be tentatively set aside if there were only one or two anthems on the disc out of 13 selections, but the total is seven. That moves matters into the problematic category, at best. Try before you buy is all I can recommend, or you might end up as disappointed as I am—a disappointment made all the worse by my admiration for the forces involved.


Tracklisting:

01 - Fantasia 2 a4 (VGSA 22)
02 - Praise the Lord, O my soul
03 - Fantasia 5 a4 (VdGS 25)
04 - Mount up, my soul
05 - Fantasia 1 a4 (VdGS 21)
06 - Down, Caitiff wretch (Part 1)
07 - Prayer is an endless chain (Part 2)
08 - Fantasia 3 a4 (VdGS 23)
09 - How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord
10 - Fantasia 4 a4 (VdGS 24)
11 - Let God Arise
12 - Fantasia 6 a4 (VdGS 26)
13 - This is a joyful, happy holy day

EAC LOG
Exact Audio Copy V1.0 beta 3 from 29. August 2011

EAC extraction logfile from 23. January 2015, 10:13

Phantasm & Choir of Magdalen College Oxford, Hyde / Fantasies & Verse Anthems

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