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Matthew LOCKE (c.1621–1677)
Anthems, motets and ceremonial music

Descende caelo cincta soroibus "The Oxford Ode" (1672) [10:15]
How doth the city sit solitary [ 8:35]
Super flumina Babylonis (1663-5?) [ 12:58]
O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands (1660/61?) [5:24]
Audi, Domine, clamantes ad te (1663-5?) [9:44]
Lord, let me know mine end (1663-5?) [8:02]
Jesu, auctor clementie (1640s?) [2:11]
Be thou exalted, Lord (1666) [9:47]
Choir of New College, Oxford
The Parley of Instruments/Peter Holman
Edward Higginbottom
rec. Rosslyn Hill Chapel, London, May 1989. DDD

From the perspective of the 21st Century it is difficult to imagine the repressive atmosphere of Cromwellian England, let alone the intense artistic rebirth brought about by the monarchy in 1660.

Charles II encouraged the arts, not least music, with the re-establishment of a thriving court music. This not only boasted its own orchestra, but an ensemble known as "The Twenty-Four violins", clearly in emulation of his French cousins at Versailles.

Matthew Locke, a Devonian trained at Exeter Cathedral, managed to survive the excesses of the Civil War to assume a prominent place at Court. On the outbreak of hostilities he fled to the Netherlands but returned three years later to involve himself in what remained of a musical scene in London. In 1656 he collaborated with William Davenant on the "Siege of Rhodes" an entertainment with music. Often described as the first English opera, it was one of the few stage events to survive the puritanical rigours.

Yet during the Commonwealth the centre of musical activity had switched to Oxford, where the emphasis was on the intimate world of the viol consort, recitals taking place in the privacy of the homes of "gentlemen". Despite the fact that Locke was handily placed in 1660 to take advantage of the new found activity at court, (most of his contemporaries being too old), he decided to retain a foothold among the Dreaming Spires. Indeed he was inspired to do so by a great Oxford figure, the enthusiastic Professor Edward Lowe, who encouraged him to write a number of works for its music school. Moreover it was profitable labour/ It is recorded that in July 1672 Locke was paid the handsome sum of £3/19s/4d for music used in the university’s annual degree ceremony, the work in question almost certainly being "Descende caeol cincta soroibus", the first track on the present disc.

The need for new repertory after the Civil War also resulted in Locke writing for the Anglican liturgy despite being an avowed catholic. "Be thou exalted" (track 8), a fine polytonal anthem, was performed at Whitehall on 14 August 1666 to celebrate Albermarle’s victory over the Dutch. One listener, a certain Samuel Pepys, later recorded in his diary, "(a) special good anthem".

There is much to enjoy then on this fine reissue, recorded at Rosslyn Hill Chapel to accord as closely as possible with the modest acoustics encountered at Whitehall and Oxford. If forced to nominate a personal favourite it would have to be the work which became his most popular after his death, "Lord let me know mine end" (track 6). The simplicity of the opening with a solo voice I still find breathtaking and intensely moving.

The performances are generally admirable. Just occasionally a slight eyebrow may be raised at the intonation of one of the boy’s voices, although that said I felt Oliver Johnston excelled throughout. Good clear recording quality too. Recommended.

Ian Bailey




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