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Thomas Lupo & Matthew Locke: Consort music

[I] Thomas LUPO (1571 - 1627): "Fantasia"
rec: Nov 5 - 7, 2018, Sherborne (Gloucester), St Mary Magdalene's Church
Signum Classics - SIGCD716 ( 2022) (64'06")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Fantasia 8 in 3 parts, VdGS 10; Fantasia 12 in 3 parts, VdGS 14; Fantasia 13 in 3 parts, VdGS 15; Fantasia 15 in 3 parts, VdGS 24; Fantasia 15 in 3 parts, VdGS 26; Fantasia 17 in 3 parts, VdGS 27; Fantasia 1 in 5 parts, VdGS 11; Fantasia 2 in 5 parts, VdGS 12; Fantasia 9 in 5 parts, VdGS 1; Fantasia 10 in 5 parts, VdGS 3; Fantasia 27 in 5 parts, VdGS 23; Fantasia 29 in 5 parts, VdGS 25; Fantasia 30 in 5 parts, VdGS 26; Fantasia 31 in 5 parts, VdGS 27; Fantasia 35 in 5 parts, VdGS 33; Fantasia 2 in 6 parts, VdGS 2; Fantasia 5 in 6 parts, VdGS 5; Fantasia 8 in 6 parts, VdGS 8; Fantasia 10 in 6 parts, VdGS 10; Pavan 28 in 3 parts, VdGS 3

Emily Ashton, Richard Boothby, William Hunt, Joanna Levine, Asako Morikawa, Sam Stadlen, viola da gamba

[II] Matthew LOCKE (1621 - 1677): The Little Consort
rec: March 8 - 10, 2021, Sherborne (Gloucester), St Mary Magdalene's Church
Signum Classics - SIGCD728 ( 2022) (67'32")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Suite No. 1 in g minor; Suite No. 2 in C; Suite No. 3 in d minor; Suite No. 4 in B flat; Suite No. 5 in e minor; Suite No. 6 in F; Suite No. 7 in g minor; Suite No. 8 in a minor; Suite No. 9 in B flat; Suite No. 10 in d minor

Emily Ashton, Richard Boothby, Joanne Levine, Asako Morikawa, viola da gamba; Sergio Bucheli, archlute, theorbo; Silas Wollston, harpsichord

Consort music is mostly associated with the English Renaissance, and rightly so. There this genre seems to have been more popular, and certainly for a longer period of time, than anywhere else. For the origins of consort music in England, we have to go back to the first half of the 16th century and the reign of Henry VIII. He was a great music lover, and in 1539 he included a group of six wind players from Italy, the Bassano family, into his musical establishment. In 1540 they were joined by six string players, again from Italy, who were initially only known by their first name and the place which they came from. Three of them were from Milan: Ambrosio, Romano and Alexandro. Originally they were not from Italy, though, but rather from Spain or Portugal, and, being Sephardic Jews, they may have come to Italy, when in 1492 Jews were expelled from the Iberian peninsula. When they entered Henry's service, they were not known with their name of Lupo.

Jews were not allowed to live in England: in 1290 they were persecuted and expelled. It was only Oliver Cromwell, who in 1653 allowed them to return. However, Henry VIII undoubtedly knew of their Jewish identity. In a probate document of 1542 Ambrosio is described as 'Ambrosius deomaleyex', apparently a garbled rendering of 'de Olmaliach' or 'de Almaliach', a version of the Sephardic name 'Elmaleh'. In 1542 Romano died, and Alexandro's existence is not documented after 1544. It was Ambrosio who founded a dynasty of players of the violin and the viol who were in the service of the court until the Civil War. Thomas, to whom Fretwork has devoted an entire disc, was Ambrosio's grandson.

Thomas joined the court violin consort in 1588, at the age of just 16. He stayed their until his death, and was then succeeded by his son Theophilus. Thomas was part of the musical establishment of Prince Henry, where Alfonso Ferrabosco II, Giovanni Coprario and Orlando Gibbons were his colleagues, all highly qualified players and composers. It seems likely that most of Lupo's own consort music was written for this ensemble. Apart from the viol, Thomas played the violin, and wrote music for an ensemble of thirteen string players; that part of his output has not been preserved.

His oeuvre includes some sacred music, and Richard Boothby, in his liner-notes, points out that he never set any texts from the New Testament. This may be a sign that he was well aware of his Jewish identity, and had not converted to the Anglican church. That seems to be confirmed by the fact that his consort music does not include a single In Nomine, unlike that of almost every other composer of consort music of his time. This is undoubtedly the main part of his oeuvre, and is quite sizeable: 24 fantasias and four pavans in three parts, thirteen four-part fantasias, 35 fantasias in five parts and twelve in six. There are also a few pieces that have been preserved incomplete. Some of the five-part fantasias are Italian madrigals without lyrics. One of them may be Fantasia 35 5, with the addition Oh che vezzosa. This is not the only piece where he shows his Italian roots.

The Fantasias are a testimony of his skills in imitative counterpoint. Moreover, these pieces have a buoyancy that sets them apart from much that was written in his time. They are very dynamic and differentiated in character, partly due to the variety in the scoring of the three-part Fantasias. Whereas such pieces were traditionally scored for treble, tenor and bass or two trebles and bass, in Lupo's oeuvre we also find pieces for three trebles, three basses, two trebles and tenor, treble and two tenors and two tenors and bass. It is in particular in the five- and six-part fantasias that his Italian roots come to the fore.

It is quite astonishing that to date only one disc has been entirely devoted to Lupo's oeuvre, recorded by The English Fantasy (Gaudeamus, 2010). Although pieces from his oeuvre are included in anthologies, that does him hardly any justice, and from that angle this disc deserves a strong and unequivocal welcome, also because of the brilliant and engaging performances by Fretwork. This disc is a real must-have for any lover of consort music. Let's hope that the remaining parts of Lupo's oeuvre will make it to disc in the near future.

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 still played an important role in English music life in the mid-17th century. It 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.

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.

The Little Consort seems the earliest music for a consort of viols that Locke has written; he himself mentions 1651 as the year of composition. It is notable that the collection was printed (1656). Before only two collections entirely devoted to consort music had been published: John Dowland's Lachrimae (1604) and the Fantasias of Three Parts by Orlando Gibbons (c1620). The suites were written at the request of William Wake, who was lay vicar at Exeter Cathedral and Locke's former teacher. Wake wanted them to use for the instruction of his pupils. According to Locke they are designed for "the Hands, Ears, and Patience of young Beginners, making the Ayre familiar, the Parts formal, and all facile and short".

The set comprises ten suites of four movements each. Every suite opens with a pavan, which is more than twice as long as the next three movements: ayre, courante, sarabande. The first five suites are scored for two trebles and a bass, the suites six to ten for treble, tenor and bass. It is notable that the title mentions violins and viols as alternatives. The violin enjoyed increasing popularity in Locke's time, and that may well have inspired him to offer them as an alternative to the traditional (treble) viols. Locke indicates that the strings can play alone or with theorbo and harpsichord.

Fretwork has recorded the entire set, and the order of pieces is such that suites for the two different scorings are played in alternation. The programme opens with the Suite No. 1 for two trebles and bass, and continues with the Suite No. 6 for treble, tenor and bass. Then follow the Suites No. 3 and No. 7, and the disc ends with the Suite No. 10. The pavan is in a slow tempo, the next three movements are increasingly fast, and the saraband is the fastest, and also the shortest. In this time the saraband was not the slow dance it would become in the baroque period.

This may well be the first recording of the entire set. That is quite surprising as these are very fine pieces. Maybe their purpose as teaching material has prevented ensembles from recording them, although some of the suites have been included in anthologies. This complete recording fills a gap in the discography, and further confirms Locke's reputation as the main composer of consort music of his time. This is highly entertaining repertoire, and the lively performances by Fretwork are the best possible case for these suites. The tempi and the dynamic shading are well-judged. This disc should be part of any collection of consort music recordings.

Johan van Veen ( 2023)

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