Locke: For Lovers of Consort Music

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Laurence Dreyfus, treble viol and director
Emilia Benjamin, treble viol
Jonathan Manson, tenor viol
Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, bass viol
Elizabeth Kenny, theorbo  
(Two Canons 6 with Emily Ashton, tenor viol and Jonathan Rees, bass viol)

Recording Date: 9 - 11 November 2017
Recording Location: Boxgrove Priory (Sussex, UK)
Producer and Engineer: Phillip Hobbs
Post-Production: Julia Thomas
Cover image: Shooting Clouds III  (2015) by Alexander Polzin (b.1973)


Of all the composers of Jacobean viol consort music, it seems to me that Matthew Locke is the one who makes most characteristic use of the viol while at the same time maintaining his roots firmly in the English idiom. The various four-part Suites and the two six-part Canons which Phantasm have chosen for this rich and varied programme show every aspect of Locke’s talent, ranging from music of profound intensity and seriousness to dancing episodes of felicitous energy. The sonorous texture of the viols is beautifully augmented by the theorbo of Elizabeth Kenny, which adds a percussive quality to the superbly smooth viol texture, points up the part writing and enriches the harmonies. These musicians are steeped in the music of this turbulent period, which saw the execution of a king, the temporary triumph of republicanism and then the restoration of monarchy, and they apply the full depth of their understanding to this unique music all composed in the potentially hostile England of Cromwell. As the group’s director Laurence Dreyfus suggests in his hugely readable programme note, this ‘hostile environment’ goes some way to explain Locke’s constant quest for novelty and originality. However, this is by no means music for those with a short attention span, as for every quirky body-swerve and unexpected change of tack there is an extended and eloquent passage in which a musical idea is more than fully developed. This is a lovely CD oozing musicality from every pore, and Phantasm and Elizabeth Kenny provide expert guidance through every twist and turn of Locke’s rich imagination.

D. James Ross, Jan 2019 - read review on Early Music Review

This recording should come with a warning not to read the booklet notes until after listening to the CD. Look no further than the opening sentence, in which Phantasm’s founder and leader Laurence Dreyfus provocatively suggests that ‘there may be no good reason to like the consort music of Matthew Locke’. Donning his professorial mortar board, Dreyfus at once enlightens us on the idiosyncratic nature of the music while parodying it in his prose. A tour de force? I fear some will be dissuaded from listening to the disc, which would be a shame, because it is indisputably superb. 

Locke’s music – suites and canons for four to six viols composed during the 1650s – is surprisingly tuneful and harmonically engaging. Phantasm’s performances are compelling, their immaculate ensemble always internally balanced to best effect, their near-miraculous transparent textures brilliantly captured by the engineer. Dreyfus’s choices of tempo and application of rubato are both refreshing and nuanced. Elizabeth Kenny’s polished and beautifully judged theorbo accompaniments subtly enrich Locke’s delicately chromatically inflected textures.

Each suite begins with a ‘Fantazie’ (each of The Flat Consorts for my cousin Kemble sports two) that is constructed in a series of contrasting sections (some of which are fugal), not unlike a miniature sinfonia or theatrical overture, and is succeeded by characterful, danceable courantes, sarabands and jiggs (in The Flat Consorts) or ayres (in the Consorts of Four Parts). The two exquisitely constructed canons in six parts are a true delight for lovers of consort music. It is recordings of this calibre that will attract new listeners to the English consort repertoire.

Julie Anne Sadie, Nov 2018 - read review on Gramophone

David Skudlik