Charles Burney dismissed them as vile, but William Lawes’ Royal extravagances are most definitely viol.


William Lawes
The Royal Consorts
Linn CKD470 (2SACD)


William Lawes inhabited a medieval London that was about to be irreplaceably altered by the Great Fire of 1666. He found gainful employment as a composer at the court of King Charles I and as Parliament flexed its republican instincts, he felt moved to add the prefix ‘Royal’ to his Consort pieces. Much good it did him: Lawes was killed fighting for the Royalists during the Siege of Chester in 1645.

As with all kinds of genuinely great dance music, Lawes’ pieces are as much about the idea of movement as they are specific invitations to the dance floor. This is a composer who revels in lopsided groupings of bars, allowing his individual melodic phrasings to follow their natural incline rather than being merely shepherded behind bar lines like sheep – a lesson in how symmetry can be overrated.

More usually recorded in the composer’s own revised remake version for a larger ensemble, Oxford-based Phantasm opt to perform Lawes’ original version for four viols and the lower pitched lute-like theorbo (plus organist Daniel Hyde makes a cameo appearance with some bonus sets “to the organ”). The rhythmic vivacity and pungent push-pull swing of their playing rocks, while their ear for authentic period non-tempered tunings is exquisite. Philip Clark

“In the Royal Consorts we discovered that a viol consort – boosted by a brilliant theorbo player – can really ‘rock’, ‘kick’ and ‘swing’, tapping into the impulse sparking Lawes’ genial music.”
– Laurence Dreyfus

The Runners-Up

Cello Sonatas
Jean-Guihen Queyras vc, Alexander Melnikov p
Harmonia Mundi HMC902183/84

Violin Sonatas
Franziska Pietsch v, Detlev 
Eisinger p
Audite AUDITE97707

Classical Flute Concertos
Emmanuel Pahud fl, Kammerorchester Basel/Antonini
Warner Classics 2564627678

Winds and Piano
Music by Mozart, Poulenc, Beethoven, Caplet et al
Les Vents Français
Warner Classics 2564623185 (3CD)