PURCELL Complete Fantasia for Viols
It was at one time thought that, because the fantasia was already an outdated form by Purcell’s day and viols had largely given way to violins, Purcell’s Fantazias (as he spelled them), modelled on those of Matthew Locke, were only compositional exercises for his own edification, especially as he never published them and evidence exists that he had planned many more than he in fact wrote. In his admirable insert-note Laurence Dreyfus, the director of Phantasm, will rightly have none of this. Purcell’s contrapuntal mastery is indeed dazzling, with the points of imitation in the various sections of each fantasia treated in double or triple counterpoint, inversion, augmentation and all other technical devices – for instance, the initial subjects of fantasias Z739, 742 and 743 at once appear in mirror images of themselves – but the music’s deep expressiveness and the dramatic tension created by its chromaticisms and unpredictable harmonies make it clear that he certainly had performance in mind, even if (because of the king’s dislike of such intellectual pursuits) only privately by conservative-minded music-lovers.
It is this expressiveness which Phantasm emphasize in this recording, both in their varied dynamics and in their use of vibrato. JAS and the Editor were, with justification, enthusiastic about Fretwork’s performances in 1995, but these are, if anything, even more striking. Fretwork’s approach was, on the whole, plainer – one might even say more severe: speeds here are in general faster (though not as fast as in the classic Wenzinger recording, which I still treasure and which is now available on CD) and there is rather more variety of bowing and hence of articulation. If it weren’t that rival versions inevitably affect each other’s sales, one could rejoice that three such fine, though differing, readings of these superb works were available.'