Consort music, born out of a combination of instrumental parts for madrigals and of more free-form and improvisational-style instrumental music untied to the constraints of vocals, was a genre more intended for the pleasure of the performers themselves than for any listeners. This five disc set of reissues presents consort music for viols by four of the greatest English musicians of the 17th century, John Jenkins, William Lawes (considered the foremost composer in the land, and whose death at the siege of Chester in 1645 led the King to declare mourning for the 'Father of Musick'), Matthew Locke and, leaving the best till last, Henry Purcell.
By Purcell's time the form was moribund, firstly from the strictures of Puritanism banning public performance of music leading to a decline, and then King Charles II's preference for French music and his court following suit meant than his consort pieces, the last ever composed, would never have a significant audience and were never published. Yet he showed himself to be the master of the form. From what I have read elsewhere, Fretwork have since re-recorded the Purcell pieces in what is said by some to be a superior recording, but to my untrained ear there is nothing whatsoever wrong with these, nor with those by Jenkins, Lawes and Locke for that matter. It's a bargain set and a great introduction to 17th century English consort music.
There is one major annoyance: in cramming five discs into the double jewel case, Virgin have created some infernal construction with a separate detachable plate for mounting the fifth disc. This is a real pain in the backside and almost impossible to reassemble when trying to close the box up again.
on 4 April 2013
Fretwork are a brilliant viol consort that make this gorgeous music sound brand new. I saw them recently at King's Place and, despite some personnel changes, they are just as brilliant now. Wonderful stuff. Viol music persisted in Britain long after it had fallen out of favour on the continent (where they prefered the brighter tone of the violin) but these composers were masters of the medium.