PURCELL The Complete Fantazias
Most of the finest viol consorts of our day – Fretwork, Phantasm, the Rose Consort and Hespèrion XX – recorded the Fantazias to celebrate Purcell’s bicentenary in 1995. In 2007 the Ricercar Consort issued a further recording (Mirare). Fretwork’s version was a Gramophone Editor’s Choice and Recording of the Month (3/95); that recording was deleted from the catalogue in 2006, so to remedy the loss, Fretwork have recorded the Fantazias again, with slightly different personnel (in the interim Asako Morikawa and Richard Tunnicliffe have joined the ensemble), and omitting Purcell’s afterthought (the incomplete four-part Fantazia in A minor); David Pinto has written a vivid commentary worthy of the music to accompany the CD.
In his review of Phantasm’s version (2/97), Lionel Salter rightly observed that Fretwork’s 1995 performances were “plainer” and “more severe”, preferring Phantasm’s more colourful use of dynamics and vibrato. He also alluded to Fretwork’s slower tempi.
Time has passed and interpretations have evolved. Fretwork have grown in confidence and flair (think of “Birds on Fire” – 9/08); they’ve listened, experimented and rethought their interpretations. In this new recording they bring a stronger sense of the linear progression of the music, helped by slightly quicker tempi. They are less introspective, more engaging: they have mellowed. If you already own the 1995 version, make room on your shelf for another. Purcell’s remarkable Fantazias – out of sync with their time, never widely circulated or acknowledged in his day, yet works of true genius – are definitely worth revisiting.