CD review: William Lawes’s The Royal Consort

First published in the Guardian on 7 May, 2015

Lawes: The Royal Consort
Phantasm (Linn)

The viol music of William Lawes (1602-1645) is like none other: weird phrase lengths, irreverent weightings and rogue, sumptuous harmonies that’ll make you gasp for joy every time. Sometimes he seems to repeat a snatch of melody simply because it’s too gorgeous not to, which must have caused havoc for anyone trying to actually dance to his numbers. The Royal Consort comprises ten sets (or setts in 17th century lexicon) composed for the court of Charles I and recorded here for the first time in its complete original version for four viols and theorbo. In his sleeve notes, treble viol player and Phantasm director Laurence Dreyfus makes the point that “Lawes composes his parts as if the performing musicians are themselves dancing”. It’s a brilliant starting point and the Phantasm players really run with it: twist after turn of lapping, pliant lines and spirited counterpoint, all done with a real sense of swing. The ensemble sound is luxuriantly rich, powered forward by the feisty theorbo strumming of Elizabeth Kenny.

Kate Molleson