Early Music Ensemble
"Phantasm's control is absolute. The playing is remarkable, and technically flawless"
"Phantasm’s playing brims with imaginative fantasy and dance-like momentum"
"they maintain that quality of conversation among friends that I believe to be the essence of consort music"
American Record Guide
"The performances are elegant, rich-textured and beautifully phrased. Affecting"
Laurence Dreyfus - treble viol, director
Emilia Benjamin - treble and tenor viols
Jonathan Manson - tenor viol
Heidi Gröger - tenor and bass viols
Markku Luolajan-Mikkola - bass viol
Phantasm, an award-winning consort of viols, was founded in 1994 by Laurence Dreyfus and has become recognised as the most exciting viol consort active on the world scene today. The ensemble catapulted into international prominence when its debut CD of works by Henry Purcell won a Gramophone Award for the Best Baroque Instrumental Recording of 1997. It has since won two further Gramophone Awards - for Orlando Gibbons (2004) and John Dowland's Lachrimae (2017).
The consort has travelled the world over, performing in festivals and on concert series in cities such as Prague, Tokyo, Istanbul, Helsinki and Washington DC. Recent engagements have included the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, Trigonale Festival (Austria), Barcelona Early Music Festival, the Bergen International Festival, the Lufthansa Early Music Festival in London, Mazovia Baroque in Warsaw, the Stockholm Early Music Festival, Brussels’ Palais des Beaux Arts and Ghent’s De Bijloke hall.
Phantasm’s 20 recordings have won consistent praise. Their first recording for the Scottish LINN label was Editor’s Choice in BBC Music Magazine as well as a finalist for the 2010 Gramophone Early Music Award. Their CD with the Complete Consort Music of William Byrd was awarded a Diapason d’Or, CD of the Month by BBC Music Magazine, and was a Gramophone finalist for the best Early Music recording of 2011. Lawes's Consorts to the Organ was nominated for the annual Chamber Music Award in BBC Music Magazine, September 2012. Their recording of Lawes‘s Royal Consort not only became the CD of the week in various broadcast stations all over Europe and in the US, but also ranked high on the UK specialist Classical Charts for several months before winning the 2016 Chamber Music Prize from Limelight Magazine (Australia).
Phantasm was based at the University of Oxford from 2005 when they were appointed Consort-in-Residence. In Autumn 2010, they began a new association as Consort-in-Residence at Magdalen College, where they performed, recorded, and collaborated with the acclaimed College Choir. Phantasm have also made regular appearances for several seasons at the Wigmore Hall, appearing a total of three times during the 2017/2018 season.
In 2015, Phantasm moved its base of operations to Berlin, Germany, where director Laurence Dreyfus plans the consort's activities and pursues his own independent research in musicology, performance studies, and music analysis.
The 2019/20 season sees the release of Phantasm’s latest disc for LINN Records ‘J.S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Consort’. The ensemble will also return to the Pierre Boulez Saal for the premiere and three performances of a new multidisciplinary project ‘The Art of Being Human’, with visual artist Alexander Polzin and choreographer Sommer Ulrickson.
This biography is for information only and should not be reproduced.
J.S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Consort
Linn Records, 2020
An academic exercise in counterpoint? Think again. In the hands of Phantasm this is anything but. Performing fugues with string quartets is an age-old device for selling the dialogue of these works, but in this consort of characters, new opinions are voiced and Bach's invention is thrown into relief. The consort sound is a balm of well-tempered, flowing sweetness, often heightened by judicious transpositions to maximise the instruments' resonance, but at the fore is a playful sense of exploration into the chromatic corners and remote tonal areas originally intended to promote an otherworldly effect.
Hannah French, BBC Music Magazine Chamber Choice *****
Phantasm - They are up there with the best and after only a few bars it becomes clear why. From the very first notes, this ensemble transports you into the fascinating world of Bach's polyphony. Each voice in itself could stand alone, none is banal and only intended as mere accompaniment, and when played together they form a perfect unity. The fascinating beauty of the polyphonic compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach becomes very tangible through the playing of Phantasm. They articulate with such clarity that, as in a conversation, the contributions of each individual remain recognisable. Assured in intonation, exacting in phrasing and ensemble, whoever makes music at this level has great creative scope also to render transparent the structures of the particularly complex fugues and ricercars.
the viol consort Phantasm breathe into well-known Bach a breath of newborn liveliness.It is now, thankfully, a well-eroded cliché that a Bach fugue is a cerebral, neutral exercise. Yet these performances by Phantasm find conversation, play and dance in the unlikeliest of contrapuntal moments. What, essentially, is most fantastic about this disc is that we are listening to six players - Phantasm are joined by the spectacular bass viol sonority of guest Liam Byrne for the works in six voices - each with their own body and instrument, and therefore unique timbre and artistry, playing music that is usually only played by a single person. As such, there are a few more hand-waving, flag-waving entries that burst through the texture in shimmering inégale than we are used to in traditional recordings of 'solo Bach'. It's thrilling. Phantasm unfailingly occupy a sweet spot of individual voices in psychic attunement. In other words, Bach's imitative forms are infused with the inimitability of human nature as well as the equally human endeavour to be one. We hear both generous, marital blend as well as the fragile variation and asymmetry of human interaction.
Mark Seow, Gramophone
These performances will make you look at music you thought you knew well through new eyes. But it is also music-making of the highest quality; I found the five-part chorale prelude An Wasserflüßen Babylon (BWV 653b) with its double pedal scoring particularly satisfying on viols as the interplay between the parts develops
David Stanicliffe, Early Music Review
The listener comes out gaining substantially in transparency, with a much more diaphanous counterpoint, to the point that it is almost possible to visualize which instrument (Marco Borggreve signs the exceptional family photo of its masts and scrolls on the cover) each voice is confident. And when the writing is filled with the six voices of the second ricercar of the Musical Offering or the choral prelude Aus tiefer Not, the most archaic Bach - here spiritually and physically in its purest form - is twinned with the great polyphonists who liked to consider themselves his inheritor.
Luis Gago, El País
Matthew Locke: For Lovers of Consort Music
Linn Records CKD594
it is indisputably superb. Phantasm's performances are compelling, their immaculate ensemble always internally balanced to best effect, their near-miraculous transparent textures brilliantly captured by the engineer. Dreyfus’s choices of tempo and application of rubato are both refreshing and nuanced. It is recordings of this calibre that will attract new listeners to the English consort repertoire.
Julie Anne Sadie, Gramophone
One of Phantasm's most distinctive qualities is its airy (phantasmal?) sound. With weightless bowing and wispy articulation, Locke's dance music floats and contrapuntal threads are woven into a fabric sheer as gossamer
Kate Bolton-Porciatti, BBC Music Magazine
Performances by Laurence Dreyfus’s ensemble Phantasm are always worth treasuring, although there’s a special glory about this album devoted to Matthew Locke.
Geoff Brown, The Times
Phantasm spielt all das mit viel Liebe zu Detail, mit feinem silbrigen Klang und mit wunderbar federnder Phrasierung.
[Original text: Phantasm play everything with loving attention to detail, a delicate, silvery sound and wonderfully elastic phrasing.]
Musica Antiqua Reutlingen
Anyone watching his facial expressions got an impression of the lightness, the precision and the concentration behind such an appearance. The Renaissance pieces are characterized by simple yet elegant melody. With perfect technique and rhythmic precision, the group mastered the hardest runs, such as in a complex "Aire" by Lawes. The mainly older listeners heard choir-like cantilenas, magical sound bows, difficult tempo changes. Some pieces were reminiscent of courtly round dances, others spread elegiac melancholy.
[Original text: Wer sein Mienenspiel beobachtete, bekam einen Eindruck von der Leichtigkeit, der Präzision und der Konzentration, die hinter einem solchen Auftritt steht. Die Renaissance-Stücke bestechen durch schlichte und doch elegante Melodieführung. Mit perfekter Technik und rhythmischer Präzision haben die zwei Virtuosinnen und drei Virtuosen die schwersten Läufe gemeistert, etwa in einer komplexen „Aire“ von Lawes. Die vornehmlich älteren Zuhörer vernahmen chorähnliche Kantilenen, zauberhafte Klangbögen, schwierige Tempowechsel. Manche Stücke erinnerten an höfische Rundtänze, andere breiteten elegische Schwermut aus.]
Mattias Reichert, Schwäbisches Tagblatt
Bach’s ‘Art of Fugue’ is a definite part of the viol consort Phantasm’s repertoire. It quickly becomes clear that the four musicians around Laurence Dreyfus are not playing the programme for the first time. The phrases are so extraordinarily homogenous, so thoughtfully phrased, and so sensually musically heard. The four musicians of this ensemble, which was created in 1994 on the initiative of Dreyfus, are tonally fused.
[Original text: Bachs „Kunst der Fuge“gehört fest zum Repertoire des Gambenconsorts „Phantasm“. Dass die vier Musiker um Laurence Dreyfus das Programm nicht zum ersten Mal spielen, wird schnell klar: So außergewöhnlich homogen, so durchdacht phrasiert, so sinnlich musiziert hört man die Fugen selten. Klanglich verschmolzen sind die vier Musiker dieses Ensembles, das 1994 auf Initiative von Dreyfus entstand.]
Anja Jaskowski, Leipziger Volkszeitung
Pearls of Polyphony
Chamber Music New Zealand Tour (May 2018)
How many, like me, were drawn into the lilting rhythms and criss-crossing lines as if we were part of the group? How many experienced goosebumps and shivers, caught up in the volatile flow between major and minor, or held the breath when pianissimo chords seemed to float in their own radiant firmament above us?
William Dart, NZ Herald
Phantasm is a group of musicians from the very top drawer, and the music-making was breathtakingly fine. The Elizabethan period was highlighted by William Byrd, but the absolute highlight, for me, were the four Fantazias of 1680 by Henry Purcell - some of the last music written for the viol. The concert ended with music that was not written for viol, but fascinating nonetheless; the music of J.S. Bach. First we heard three fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier arranged for quartet by Mozart, and, finally, four pieces from his Art of Fugue. Then an encore - an atypical piece from Domenico Scarlatti. All in all, the finest viol playing I have ever heard in concert.
John Button, Dominion Post
Misteria Paschalia Festival (April 2018)
The British but now Berlin-based viol consort Phantasm, joined by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, gave a stirring performance of Dowland's Lachrimae, with every note at once clear and crisp yet beautifully rounded...The lush dissonances teased out during the pavans were deliciously wistful and the rhythmic interplay displayed in the dance movements gave an infectious, impish quality with a real swing.
Miranda Heggie, The Arts Desk
Christopher Tye: Complete Consort Music
Linn Records CKD571
Their playing is technically unimpeachable, and their warm tone is beautifully recorded here with every part distinctly audible. What I find most admirable is their keen sense of forward movement and phrase trajectory. At the same time they maintain that quality of conversation among friends that I believe to be the essence of consort music.
William J Gatens, American Record Guide
Phantasm is an inspired fir for this repertoire. The musicians' distinctive sound - immediately warm but spiced with an edgy kick - is as assured as ever, ideal for Tye's oft-madcap In nomines...Phantasm delight in the eccentricities of his writing
Hannah French, BBC Music Magazine
Sometimes plangent, often ebulliently uplifting, these are ever unpredictable pieces, which can switch from high mood to low, content to unease, on a sixpence. All are exquisitely played by Phantasm, directed by Laurence Dreyfus.
Richard Fairman, Financial Times
what strikes me about this recording is its suaveness, its evenness, its consistent beauty. Phantasm ride the impish contours of Tye's imagination with unbending calm. Even in a stunning "free" composition such as the three-part Sit Fast - which breaks out of its lamentations into sudden squalls of dance, like someone who forgets they are at a funeral and goes a bit disco - Phantasm's control is absolute. The playing is remarkable, and technically flawless.
Kate Molleson, The Guardian
The World of Byrd
Wigmore Hall (February 2018)
But if the composer is great, as Byrd undoubtedly was, an evening-long immersion is bound to reveal all kinds of things lurking under an apparently unvaried surface. That was the case with this superb concert from Phantasm, one of the best viol consorts around. These players know how to aerate Byrd's smooth weave of independent lines, by slipping in telling pauses. They enliven the dances by pointing up the ingenious way Byrd makes the melodies skip across the regular underlying tread. Viol consorts often play with a perfectly smooth reedy sound, but these players - above all the founder and treble violist Laurence Dreyfus - weren't afraid to warm the sound with a touch of vibrato.
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph