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John JENKINS, Matthew LOCKE: Consort music

[I] John JENKINS (1592 - 1678): "Four-Part Consorts"
Phantasm; Daniel Hyde, organa
rec: Sept 30 - Oct 2, 2012, East Woodhay, St Martin's Church
Linn Records - CKD 677 ( 2022) (76'15")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores
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Fantasy No. 1 in c minor; Fantasy No. 2 in c minora; Fantasy No. 3 in c minora; Fantasy No. 4 in d minor; Fantasy No. 5 in Fa; Fantasy No. 6 in F; Fantasy No. 7 in c minora; Fantasy No. 8 in c minor; Fantasy No. 9 in c minora; Fantasy No. 10 in a minora; Fantasy No. 11 in a minor; Fantasy No. 12 in Da; Fantasy No. 13 in Da; Fantasy No. 14 in Da; Fantasy No. 15 in C; Fantasy No. 16 in d minora; Fantasy No. 17 in Fa; Pavan in d minor; Pavan in e minor

Laurence Dreyfus, treble viol; Jonathan Manson, Emilia Benjamin, tenor viol; Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, bass viol

[II] Matthew LOCKE (1621 - 1677): The Flat Consort
Fretwork; David Miller, archlute, theorbo; Silas Wolston, harpsichord
rec: April 28 - May 1, 2021, Chesterton (Cambridgeshire), St George's Church
Signum Classics - SIGCD696 ( 2022) (67'39")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores The Flat Consort
Spotify

[The Flat Consort] Suite No. 1 in c minor; Suite No. 2 in B flat; Suite No. 3 in d minor; Suite No. 4 in B flat; Suite No. 5 in a minor
Duo for 2 bass viols in C; Duo for 2 bass viols in D

Emily Ashton, Richard Boothby, Joanna Levine, Asako Morikawa, viola da gamba

When Matthew Locke died in 1677, Henry Purcell realised that an era had come to an end: "What hope for us remains now he is gone?" Music for a consort of instruments was an important part of that era in the history of music, and English music in particular. Although consort pieces were written before William Byrd, it was he who was the first composer to write a considerable number of works of this kind. Consort music was mainly written for private entertainment among friends. The demand for consort music must have been huge, considering the amount of pieces written by composers of the first half of the 17th century. This may well reflect the growing wealth in Britain which allowed people to buy instruments to play this kind of repertoire.

Music by Locke is the subject of the second disc under review here. First John Jenkins, who is one of the most remarkable English composers of the 17th century. He reached the exceptional age of 86 which means that he experienced the many trials and tribulations in politics and society, including the Commonwealth and the Restoration. He also saw the aesthetics change from the late Elizabethan era to the period we call 'Baroque'. And these changes left their mark in his oeuvre.

He left over 800 compositions, but that is practically all we know about him. No portrait, very little biographical detail - he didn't even make efforts to get his music printed. Apart from pieces which were included in contemporary collections his music was not printed before the 20th century. When after the Restoration he became part of the Private Musick at court he was payed until his death, even though he wasn't able to play anymore due to his age - a sign of the high respect he enjoyed.

Earlier in his career he never held a position at the court. He rather moved among aristocratic circles, and we may therefore assume that almost all his music was written for amateurs. However, that doesn't mean that his compositions are rather simple. We should not underestimate the skills of non-professional players. After all, music was an important part of the education of members of the higher echelons of society, and playing the viol was highly popular. The large amount of music for viol consort written before the Restoration attests to that.

Jenkins' oeuvre shows a wide variety of forms. In the category of instrumental music we find fantasias, fantasia-suites and fantasia-air sets, In nomines, airs and divisions as well as music for one to three lyra viols. The ensemble Phantasm recorded the complete four-part consort music. However, that requires a bit of specification. The work-list in New Grove includes many more pieces in four parts, for instance fantasia-suites for two treble viols, bass viol and organ. These are not counted, probably because the organ has a supportive role. Laurence Dreyfus, in his liner-notes, states: "[The] intricacy of Jenkin's part writing tested the skill of even experienced players. It was therefore common for a domestic chamber organ to shadow the consort, providing an accompaniment that ensured musical cohesion and served as a convenient tuning machine. (...) Jenkins's organ parts are no more than 'short scores' duplicating some of the viol lines". This explains why the organ participates only in eleven of the 19 pieces recorded here.

Dreyfus also points out that the seven keys Jenkins uses (C major and minor, D major and minor, E minor, F major, A minor) are connected to 'humours', or, with the German term, Affekte. "For Jenkins, F major projects ebullient high spirits and equable contentment, while C minor explores strife, pathos and conflict with a martial edge". He also notes that these consorts hardly include any pauses. "Jenkins's players rarely take a break. They are, it seems, eternally busy".

Obviously, that requires the utmost concentration of the players. Phantasm, one of the major ensembles in the field of music for viol consort, meets the requirements of these consorts with impressive ease. The nearly endless flow of this music is perfectly realised. As its members work closely together for many years, one can be assured that the ensemble is impeccable. This is consort playing of the highest level. And Jenkins was a composer of high repute for a reason. This is brilliant music and belongs to the top of what was written for viol consort in 17th-century England.

By all accounts Matthew Locke was a wayward character, not afraid of controversy. It didn't prevent him from rising to the position of the most prominent composer in England after the Restoration in 1660. It was Locke who was given the duty of composing music for the Twenty-Four Violins, the court's string band, and for the Private Musick, the ensemble of the highest-skilled musicians which was responsible for performing music in the royal family's Privy Chamber.

Locke was an advocate of the traditional English music, and in particular the music for viol consort. When he started to compose music for the court he linked up with this tradition. The Flat Consort is a specimen of that tradition. It was written "for my cousin Kemble"; Locke's wife may have been related to a family of that name, living in Hereford. It was a prominent Catholic family, and his ties with such a family cannot surprise as he may have gone with Charles I to The Hague, where he may have converted to Catholicism. The Flat Consort comprises five suites, which can be divided into two parts. The first two suites are scored for treble, tenor and bass viols, with any continuo instruments using the bass viol's part. They consist of six movements: fantazia, courante, fantazia, saraband, fantazia and jigg. The three remaining suites are scored for treble viol and two bass viols, each of which alternate playing the middle and bass line. Here an additional continuo part has to be created; one source includes such a part. These suites consist of four movements: the first and third are fantazias, the last is a saraband. The second movement is either a couranre (Suite No. 3) or a galliard (Suites Nos. 4 and 5).

The programme is extended by two Duos for two bass viols. They are of the same complexion: two pairs of fantazias are followed by a courant and a saraband respectively.

Locke has become (in)famous for his remark that he "never yet saw any foreign instrumental composition worthy an English man's transcribing." However, he added "a few French Corants excepted", and Richard Boothby, in his liner-notes, mentions that all Locke's chamber music suites include a courant, and that especially here the influence of French music, which he may have become acquainted with during his stay in the Low Countries, manifests itself. The quotation is taken from the introduction to the printed edition of his Little Consort. There he adds that performers should "play plain, not tearing them in pieces with division (...)". This should not be interpreted, as Boothby emphasizes, as that performers should omit any ornamentation (graces). For the latter the performers have turned to Christopher Simpson, to whom's The Division Violist Locke contributed a dedicatory poem. Simpson included a table of graces, and that has been used for these performances.

Fretwork is, just like Phantasm, one of the main interpreters of English consort music, and here it confirms its reputation with excellent performances of these fine pieces by Locke. Technically they are impeccable, and thanks to the players's understanding of Locke's style, the peculiarities of his music are fully explored here.

Johan van Veen ( 2022)

Relevant links:

Fretwork
Phantasm


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