The Flat Consort for my cousin Kemble, Suites Nos 1-5; Duos for Two Bass Viols Nos 2 & 4
David Miller (archlute/theorbo), Silas Wollston (harpsichord); Fretwork
Signum Classics SIGCD696 67:39 mins
Matthew Locke weathered the stormy years of 17th-century England, eventually becoming ‘composer to his Majestye’ Charles II and famous for his stage works and consorts whose ‘skilful harmony’ the young Purcell admired. This recording unveils five suites from Locke’s ‘Flat Consort’ for a trio of viols and continuo, interspersed with a pair of duos for bass viols. The composer’s mercurial idiom pervades in the moody Fantazias and terse dances of the consort: quirky melodic turns, lurching harmonies and kaleidoscopic moods show Locke was a master of theatrical effect. The duos epitomise the melancholy spirit of the age with their angular lines and dark hues.
It’s interesting to compare this new disc by Fretwork with Phantasm’s 2018 recording of two of the same ‘Flat Consort’ suites (Reviewed January 2019). Phantasm’s accounts are rhetorical, highly articulated and expressive; the Linn recording is open and airy. Fretwork’s approach is generally weightier and more introspective – a mood enhanced by Signum’s closer recorded balance. Fretwork captures the brooding quality of the minor-mode suites particularly well, and their sinewy playing points up Locke’s vigorous counterpoint and robust rhythms. The main bonus of the new disc, though, is its inclusion of three other suites from the surprisingly neglected ‘Flat Consort’.