The "broken consort" of seventeenth century England was an ensemble with instruments from diverse families -- typically including a recorder along with one or more bowed or plucked stringed instruments. Its opposite number was the "whole" consort. The slightly derogatory name gives the listener a clue as to what's going on in the music, as does a great quote from composer Matthew Locke reproduced in the booklet of this German release: "Never yet saw any Forain [foreign] Instrumental Composition (a few French Corants exapted [excepted]) worthy an English mans transcribing." As the very informative booklet explains, Locke was whistling in the dark -- foreign influence washed over the sober world of English consort music, and two of the composers featured here, Neapolitan Nicola Matteis and German Gottfried Giner, were imports. It was the diverse broken consort that showed the marks of new styles most clearly.
Henry Purcell fused Italian sonata ideas, French dances, and traditional English forms with an airy ease that remains one of music's great monuments. He is represented here by one short sonata (tracks 8 and 9), but the rest of the music, not often played, is equally interesting and demonstrates much about the tradition in which Purcell stands at the apex. The German ensemble Il Dolcimelo avoids a chronological approach in favor of one that provides a constantly shifting set of instrumental forces. Most of the music features a recorder (or the oddly named "voice flute," an alto-tenor D major recorder) with one or two strings and a plucked-string or keyboard continuo; some of it has been arranged from works for other instrumental combinations, but the use of the ubiquitous recorder, the favored instruments of noble amateurs, makes perfect sense. There are dance suites, a few lute solos, and some great "divisions" or variation sets based on grounds. Sample Henry Eccles' A Division on a Ground, track 7, with its ingratiating mood and attractive instrumental recombinations each time the ground comes around. Another standout is Matteis' Ground after the Scotch Humour, track 36, a riotous piece enlivened by the characteristic syncopated "snap" of Scots music (one wonders how far back that goes, anyway). Most of the pieces, however, are very quietly performed, with the modest-voiced violoncello piccolo used in several selections. Those who favor an edgier sound in the Baroque trio sonata should sample liberally here, but the delicate sound is consistently applied, fits the subtle instrumental effects in the music, and is in general a nice change of pace. The graceful, confidently intoned recorder playing of Katja Beisch is another plus, and in general this disc should find a place on any shelf of English early music.