Tuesday 1 April 2014

Very attractive works for broken consort by Matthew Locke finely performed by the American based ensemble Wayward Sisters, on a new release from Naxos

Matthew Locke (c.1621-1677) was born in Devon and was a chorister at Exeter Cathedral, under Edward Gibbons, the brother of Orlando Gibbons. He later studied with William Wake before travelling to the Netherlands, probably spending some time with the Royalist forces and possibly making the acquaintance of Prince Charles (later King Charles II). By 1656, he was back in London.

In 1653, together with Christopher Gibbons, Locke composed the music for Shirley’s masque Cupid and Death and, in 1656, together with others wrote music for Davenant’s opera The Siege of Rhodes. That year he also published his Little Consort of Three Parts for viols or violins. He composed the music ‘for ye kings sagbutts and cornets’ performed during the progress of Charles II from the Tower to Whitehall for his coronation in 1661 for which he was appointed Composer in Ordinary to the King. In addition to his court posts, Locke continued to write for the theatre. He died in London in 1677.

Locke’s compositions range from dramatic music, including music for over ten stage works, vocal music, including over thirty English anthems and fifteen Latin motets and instrumental music.

Locke’s importance rests with his dramatic music and chamber music. His consort music displays an adventurous melody, harmony and form, something which is shown clearly in the works featured on a new release from Naxos www.naxos.com


This new release, entitled The Broken Consort, Part 1, includes six of Locke’s works for broken consort (mixed consort) that were published in the first of two volumes, as well as two of the three suites contributed by him to an anthology called Tripla Concordia or A Choice Collection of New Airs in Three Parts.

These works are played by Beth Wenstrom (baroque Violin), Anne Timberlake (recorders), Anna Steinhoff (Baroque Cello) and John Lenti (Theorbo). Together they play as the Wayward Sisters http://waywardsisters.com who were the winners of the 2011 Early Music America/Naxos Competition.  The eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted that this ensemble’s theorbo player is male, but no matter, their name apparently refers ‘not only to Purcell’s vivid conjuring of Shakespeare’s witches, but also to the group’s far flung lives and continuing commitment to making music together.’

The new disc opens with Locke’s Suite in G major from Tripla Concordia where there is a gently dancing Prelude that constantly varies in rhythm with Anne Timberlake providing a lovely recorder tone and much fine playing from the string players. Fancy is a most attractive piece with a lovely, slow ending, the little Chiconae that shows the fine ensemble and spirited playing of this ensemble, an Aire, where the theme is passed between Anne Timberlake’s recorder and Beth Wenstrom’s baroque violin, a terrific Hornpipe, an equally attractive, lively Gavat, a flowing Corant that has a lovely melody and a spirited Country Dance  to end, full of fine string timbres and a lively recorder part.

The six suites from Locke’s first volume of The Broken consort have same structure of four movements, Fantazie, Courante, Ayre and Sarabande.

Suite No.1 in G minor opens with a melancholy Fantazie with some fine playing from theorbo player, John Lenti as the recorder weaves around the other players. There is a lively central section before the return of the melancholy opening and a lively end. The Courante seems to have a curiously English sound with a melody that is just what one would expect from a 17th c. English composer. These players weave the music so well and give plenty of passion to their playing. The Ayre brings some terrific, flowing recorder playing over finely blended strings whilst the Saraband is nicely pointed with fine precision from the players in this brief piece.

The Fantazie of Suite No.2 in G major has a lively opening before a quieter section that is beautifully done. These players provide fine textures, terrific precision, lovely recorder tone and some terrific agility. The Courante has gentle, rhythmic, shifting rhythms before the intricate Ayre where there is a lovely mellow recorder tone from Anne Timberlake and restrained string accompaniment, with the deeper sounds of the theorbo sounding through. A lovely piece. Finally there is a Saraband that bounces along, full of twists and turns.

Suite No.3 in C major opens with a Fantazie that has a slow melody from the recorder with Anna Steinhoff’s baroque cello echoing the theme. The music soon picks up in a livelier section with nicely nuanced playing that alternates in tempi before ending on a slow note. After a short slow opening, the Courante quickly speeds up but, during its course, again varies in tempo with a lovely weaving of instruments. This suite concludes with another of Locke’s fine Ayres, a lovely section, especially with the lovely timbres these players bring. There is a lively Saraband to end, played with terrific precision.

The Fantazie of Suite No.4 in C major has another slow introduction before gaining speed with some fine, crisp playing and more, lovely playing in the slow passages that follow. The rhythms of the Courante are finely caught by the Wayward Sisters, who bring a real style to this music. There is also fine playing in the Ayre with all of Locke’s little rhythmic changes before a Saraband that has more varying rhythms that these players respond to so well.

The Fantazie of Suite No.5 in D minor has a slow opening that, this time, is a little longer with some lovely mellow, sensitive playing from these artists. When the music picks up, the Wayward Sisters show their fine accuracy and flair. The Courante has such lovely rhythms and there is an Ayre where each instrument helps to weave a lovely tapestry. There is much fine, sensitive playing here. Another lovely little Saraband, with some terrific, agile playing from the recorder, ends this suite.

Another extended slow introduction opens the Fantazie of Suite No.6 in D major before livelier sections that lead to a quiet end. There are more rhythmic variations in the Courante, a lovely, gentle flowing Ayre and a final lively, rhythmically changing Saraband.

The second piece on this disc from the three contributed by Locke to Tripla Concordia is the Suite in E minor. The Introduction has a jolly, rhythmically bouncing theme, the lively Saraband has more flow with Locke creating so much variety in his rhythmic style. The Aire that follows has a very similar tune to preceding Sarabande except in rhythm. With the Country Dance these players push forward at a pace with terrific accuracy and phrasing. The Gavat is nicely pointed up before a Saraband, a faster piece, with crisp lively playing. A long drawn melody in the opening of the Fancy soon gives way to a livelier version before varying the tempo. Jigge is one of Locke’s fine, rhythmically lithe pieces before a slow, long drawn section that leads to the end.

These are very attractive works, full of interest and finely performed by these players. Those not familiar with Locke’s music could not do better than start here. There is an excellent recording from St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. There are excellent notes by John Lenti.

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