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GRAMOPHONE (05/2021)
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Reviewer: Mark Seow

It is a rare and wonderful thing when a sequel surpasses its first instalment. In my review of Vol 1 of Phantasm’s ‘The Well-Tempered Consort’ (3/20), I praised the ‘generous, marital blend’, the ‘sweet spot of individual voices in psychic attunement’. In this, its stunning sequel, Phantasm achieve the above and more: the sound is somehow more robust, more alive. Perhaps this is because these arrangements seem to be less suited to the viol than those presented in Vol 1. The slight unwieldiness of some of the melodic shapes when translated to viol-playing creates a funky physicality. Bach’s music is etched with the tantalising sound of challenge. It’s thrilling stuff that, honestly, I’m struggling to put into words. The Fugue in C sharp minor, BWV849 (Book 1), for example, moves from a mourning meandering, a fingered feeling-out of blackened space, into a spiral of sonic tentacles that inexorably grows in, well, something. Intensity isn’t quite the word, and nor is tension. There’s a chewy materiality to Phantasm’s sound, as if it’s something pulled between the players, an elasticity of resonance.

What else to admire? The cascades of tenderly stroked couplets in the Fugue in B flat, BWV890 (Book 2), all perfumed with a mist of inégal. Or the chugging that drives the Fugue in C, BWV870 (Book 2) to its triumphant close. But to highlight these individual moments of excellence does not, of course, do justice to the exquisite narrative created here. This isn’t just another staircase of semitones, a regular ‘48’ of prelude followed by fugue. Phantasm have crafted a story with and through Bach’s music. A wholly wondrous album.
Mark Seow

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