Locke: Consort of Fower Parts

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Locke
LABELS: gmn.com
WORKS: Consort of Fower Parts
PERFORMER: Phantasm
CATALOGUE NO: GMNC 0109 (distr. www.gmn.com)
Matthew Locke first made his mark in 1638, carving his name into the organ screen at Exeter Cathedral, where he was a chorister. Later he put his name to more worthwhile pursuits, becoming a pioneer of English opera and a distinguished composer of chamber music – his Consort of Fower Parts is one of the last great works for viol consort. The Consort’s six suites – each comprising a multi-section fantasie, followed by courante, ayre and saraband – were probably composed in the 1650s, by which time the violin’s growing popularity had left the viol consort almost obsolete. Ironically, Locke’s music was modern and idiosyncratic, full of unexpected harmonies, angular lines and rapid shifts of focus.

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Phantasm’s treatment of the suites, while typically assured and stylish, may divide opinion. The group plays without a continuo, giving the music a lithe, buoyant feel, and it plays the fantasies and, especially, the ayres at relatively quick tempi. The outstanding rival recording by Jordi Savall’s Hespèrion XX (Astrée) offers clear alternatives: the organ/double harp continuo lends textural richness and gravitas, while the ayres are slowly spun into dark, mesmerising arabesques. For me, the Savall – currently available at mid-price in Astrée’s Savall Edition – is the more eloquent, more compelling reading. Graham Lock