"a sweet spot of individual voices in psychic attunement": Phantasm's new J.S. Bach disc

27 March 2020

Viol consort Phantasm has received wonderful reviews for its latest disc 'J.S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Consort' on Linn Records.

Comprised of a selection of Bach's astonishing works for keyboard, drawn from the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Musical Offering and Clavier-Übung III, this is the first instalment of two discs of new arrangements by Phantasm's director Professor Laurence Dreyfus. The consort explores Bach's harmony and counterpoint in a new light, revealing new links and sound-worlds inherited from the polyphonic writers of the preceding centuries.

"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."
- NDR Kultur

"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

"a selection of Bach’s Preludes, Fugues and Chorale Preludes given new voices by the viol consort Phantasm. They make the point that a viol consort can put human flesh on the bones of counterpoint in really interesting ways. [Bach’s keyboard works are] beautifully inhabited by the plangent, melancholy voices of the viols framed by a rich and transparent recording."
- BBC Radio 3 Record Review

"A wonderful new disc ... It’s like coming afresh to these works and one hears them in a completely new light."
- BBC Music Magazine Podcast

"The idea behind this complex project (which will receive a second part in 2021) is to make Bach's polyphony audible in a different and more colorful way than is possible on keyboard instruments. Thanks to the excellent playing quality of each ensemble member and perfect interaction, this works very well. Compared to the harpsichord, details of topics or counter-subjects can be heard more clearly, and sustained tones develop a completely different sound culture through swelling and ebbing away."
- RBB Kultur Radio *****

"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 result has striking intimacy, and the directness and equality of the viol sound means that the interior structure of the fugues comes over in ways that one cannot always experience in keyboard versions. But this is no mere academic exercise, and the results from Phantasm are beautifully expressive and highly engaging."
- Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill

"it's a feast of fresh expressive tricks and psychological insights, coupled with the fascination of suddenly hearing links between these great fugal German works and the British Fantasy form. Beautifully shaped, deftly articulated and warmly captured, it's no wonder Phantasm is already planning a second volume for 2021."
- Only the Music

"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

"Led by its director, Laurence Dreyfus, Phantasm sets out and achieves its mission of uncovering the richness hidden by more typical resources such as the harpsichord and organ, and releasing unknown elements from the individual polyphonic lines of the great Baroque master."
- Jesus Vega, el Nuevo Herald

You can read more about the disc here. 'J.S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Consort' has also been selected by Dutch NPO Radio 4 as CD of the Week and can be streamed in full here.

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