JOHN WARD: Fantasies & Verse Anthems – Phantasm/ Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford – Linn multichannel SACD CKD 427, 60 min. [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Phantasm has already recorded the five and six-part fantasies of John Ward on a previous Linn issue, reviewed to fine acclaim by Lee Passarella, and I direct you there.
In this most welcome followup, we are now treated to the leaner, more concise, experimental, and melodically angular four-part works for treble, two tenors, and one bass viol. The pieces are as well-played as the first release, and Phantasm continues to demonstrate their adeptness and adaptability in exploring the core of this music.
But the fantasies are less than half the story on this disc—fully seven others have the addition of chorus to make up a unique and quite emotionally powerful form called the “verse anthem”. The excellent notes rightly call this an “inspired fusion of the polyphonic liturgical anthem, the anglicized Italian madrigal style and the native viol fantasy”, and I can hardly better this apt portrayal. Ward is amazingly proficient at word painting, musical foreshadowing, overlaying of textures, and a very English methodology of bringing the best of the Italian madrigal style to the Island. The works are luscious in sound, expertly wedding words to contrapuntal lines making for the best of true consort music, all packaged in one beautifully poetic and mellifluous entourage of sound that is quite unlike anything most Renaissance fans are used to hearing. In this case, hear they must, and in sound and performances like this, it’s hard to beat.
TrackList: Fantasia 2 a4 (VDGS 22); Praise the Lord, O my soul; Fantasia 5 a4 (VDGS 25); Mount up, my soul; Fantasia 1 a4 (VDGS 21); Down, caitiff wretch (Part 1); Prayer is an endless chain (Part 2); Fantasia 3 a4 (VDGS 23); How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord; Fantasia 4 a4 (VDGS 24); Let God Arise; Fantasia 6 a4 (VDGS 26); This is a joyful, happy holy day.