Decades ago I bought the old Argo record (still not transferred to CD but it is now on MP3 - see my review) of Lawes's consorts played by the Elizabethan Consort with Thurston Dart at the organ, and since then I have been hooked on William Lawes's music. A true original, there is no other composer for viols (apart from Purcell) who can match his harmonic daring and emotional complexity. As Samuel Johnson said of John Donne's poetry: "the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together". There is angst and edge in this music mixed with a sweetness, rumbustiousness, and striving for serenity in 'distracted times'. And there is a very English awkwardness and insularity which I love. The most apt comparison really does seem to be with either the late Beethoven quartets or even the Bartok quartets, although those works are more outward facing than the introspective world of Lawes.
This CD contains essentially Lawes's greatest works and the performances are stunning. Phantasm handle the complex textures of the 5 and 6 part consorts, which can sound muddy in the wrong hands, brilliantly. Like a great string quartet you sense that the personality of each player is clearly coming through. Phantasm brings out the way Lawes pits the instruments against each other, sometimes with a violent struggle, while still maintaining the necessary decorum and shape of each work. In fact the way in which Lawes works within the decorum of his times and yet continually subverts and distorts it has never been conveyed so passionately.
In his sleeve notes Laurence Dreyfus gives an insightful personal commentary on each piece which enhances the listening pleasure of the music. The recording is also excellent.
This is a real corker of a disc that ought to win awards. Buy it!