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GRAMOPHONE (Awards Issue / 2017)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan

A contemporary of Tallis and Sheppard, Christopher Tye was a composer apart. His ear for harmony, his eye for a musical line, seem to have been guided by a different logic to those around him. There’s no doubting his architect’s instinct for musical form but his architecture is more Frank Gehry than Inigo Jones – wilful, playful, iconoclastic and often as baffling as it is beautiful. This collection of his complete consort music throws up surprise after surprise – a revelation of a recording that offers a startling perspective on a familiar musical landscape.

Other recordings of this music do exist – notably Fretwork’s ‘In nomine’ (Amon Ra, 3/88) and the rather lovely ‘Crye’ by Concordia Viols (Metronome, 12/97) – often pairing Tye’s works for viol consort with those of Taverner, Tallis and Byrd. But to hear these pieces back to back, one after another as here, is to really get inside this extraordinary imagination, to be caught up short by musical blind alleys and hairpin bends of a composer who not only invented the characteristically English genre of the In nomine but who also took it further than almost any of his later imitators.

Phantasm’s craggy, deep-dug performances follow the composer’s instructive titles – ‘Hold fast’, ‘Follow me’, ‘Believe me’ – to the letter, gamely celebrating the oddities as well as the felicities of works whose fixation with 54 notes of plainchant by John Taverner (taken from the Benedictus of his Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas) has never fully been explained. Discovering the unexpected sensuality of the In nomine ‘Round’, the yelping, insistent plaints of the In nomine ‘Cry’ and the provocative dramatics of the In nomine ‘Re la re’, Phantasm are skilled musical tour guides to Tye’s challenging terrain.  

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