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Matthew LOCKE (1622 - 1677): The Broken Consort

The Locke Consort

rec: [no date, no place]
Metronome - MET CD 1086 (2 CDs) ( 2011) (1.56'00")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list
Scores The Broken Consort

[The First Part] Suite No. 1 in g minor; Suite No. 2 in G; Suite No. 3 in C; Suite No. 4 in C; Suite No. 5 in d minor; Suite No. 6 in D
[The Second Part] Suite No. 1 in c minor; Suite No. 2 in C; Suite no. 3 in d/D; Suite No. 4 in e minor; Suite No. 5 in F
Suite in g minor [1]; Suite in G [1]

Sources: [1] John Carr (ed), Tripla Concordia, 1677

John Wilson Meyer, Mimi Mitchell, violin; Susanne Braumann, viola da gamba; Fred Jacobs, theorbo

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, and the First Part of the Broken Consort bears witness to that. Locke modelled his suites after the fantasia suite of the likes of John Coprario and William Lawes, which consisted of fantasia, air and galliard. Locke modified this model by replacing the galliard with the more modern courant, putting the air in third place and adding a saraband to close the suite. The suites are grouped in pairs with the same keys and are scored for two violins (or treble viols) and bass viol. As there are some figures in the score it is assumed an organ could also participate. It seems likely that during the performances at court Locke himself played the organ. A set of parts has been preserved in manuscript and these include three theorbo parts. This justifies the use of a theorbo in the present recording. Despite the uniform structure there is a lot of variety in these suites, partly due to Locke's often daring harmonic language. The Suite VI in D is especially noteworthy for its twists and turns.

The Second Part of the Broken Consort is different: there are only five suites with a various number of movements - three, four or five - and there is no pairing by key. The opening fantazias have been replaced by a pavan which is by far the longest movement of every suite. It is assumed that Locke here gave in to the preferences of King Charles II who had a strong liking of French music and, according to the writer Roger North, had "an utter detestation of Fancys". Locke met this preference by writing dance suites for the Twenty-Four Violins, and the three suites he included in the anthology which the publisher John Carr issued in Tripla concordia in 1677 are close to the kind of suites with movements from Lully's operas which circulated in England. The opening movements - introduction (Suite in g minor) and prelude (Suite in G) respectively - are in the dotted rhythm which is so characteristic of French orchestral overtures. The introduction of the Suite in g minor is particularly striking for its squirky harmonic progressions. Movements like Le Double and gavot are reminiscent of the French orchestral suite. The two suites from Tripla concordia also include dances which were quite fashionable in the Restoration period, like country dance and hornpipe. There is also a reference to theatre music, with pieces like symphony and entry.

The Locke Consort was founded in 1986, and this recording was made to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The members are still the same as when it was founded, and together they have built up much experience in this kind of repertoire. Therefore it is no surprise that these performances are excellent in every respect. The ensemble is immaculate, and the versatility of these suites comes off very well. The idiosyncracies of Locke's style are expressed, but not in an exaggerated demonstrative way. One of the features of the Locke Consort is the refinement and subtlelty of their playing. This music has been written on the verge of renaissance and baroque, and it isn't that easy to find the right approach in this kind of repertoire. Strong dynamic shading, for instance, is certainly not appropriate, but that doesn't mean that everything has to be played at the same dynamic level. The members of The Locke Consort have got it just right.

This seems to be the first recording of the complete set of both parts of The Broken Consort. Up until now only the First Part was available in a recording by The Parley of Instruments, directed by Peter Holman (Hyperion). The latter also wrote the liner-notes for the present recording.

The Locke Consort have given themselves and us a fine birthday present.

Johan van Veen ( 2012)

Relevant links:

The Locke Consort

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