In his consort music, Lawes tries out many original ideas, both formally and harmonically. Some ideas are more successful than others, but there is certainly plenty to hear. All in all, some of the sections are among my favorite for the era, while others are kind of strange. Although there are other recordings of this music available, this is the strongest performance yet.
The older Phantasm performances, which occupied two discs, and did not include an organ, were also quite good. The choice to exclude the organ was always a bit idiosyncratic, and here it is included, with performances showing even more command of the music. The Fretwork performances were striking when they appeared, but seem so dated now. This one is just so much more emphatic & compellingly shaped, not to mention the greater range of color, etc. That was about 20 years ago, with the previous Phantasm efforts about 10 years ago. It's amazing it's been so long, but here this music really makes sense.
Lawes' music marks something of an end to my interest in consort music. After him, the music loses its dynamism, partly due to the Civil War. Locke's works are not bad, but have little in particular to recommend them, and there are some lesser composers of that period as well. Finally, Purcell wrote the last such works in his fantasias, apparently all dashed off in a couple of weeks. Many have expressed amazement over the technical devices in Purcell's fantasias, but ultimately they sound to me just like what they are, unpublished works written quickly as exercises.
Within Lawes' output, this is his most interesting (although perhaps not his most characteristic) music. He wrote various other consorts that make more use of what would become modern & simpler ideas, particularly with violins, but for the most part, these just aren't as worthwhile.
To instrumental listTodd M. McComb