I recently acquired a recording from Musica Antiqua, Köln of Dowland's Seven Teares on the Challenge Classics label. I first heard these consort pieces by Fretwork on their Virgin-Veritas recording, purchased during my college years, at a Borders Books and Music. I remember picking it up, after reading about Dowland and viol consorts. The music, itself, is a tragic lot of harmonies. They thirst for some developmental break that never really comes; it's as if the whole collection is a thick blanket of clouds, with rays of sunshine filtering through, but never fully realized in sound. A blue sky never appears. So, as consort music, it's dry. I admit, not the most flavorful of music. But MAK does something else; they present some tracks that take departure from this core set. Track 9, for instance, is for harpsichord and solo violin. What's left are the convoluted melodies, complete with the bowing and style known later in solo repertoire. It sounds like an experiment, for sure. Is this why MAK chose to record it on their "off-label" instead of DG Archiv? Well, why did they record lute and viol consort music on their more Italian instruments of violins, violas, and cellos? It's a valid question. It's the same type of question I ask in seeing Goebel and partners holding violins with chin rests. After reading Brown's essay in "Performance Practice after 1600," a compilation of essays about string and other instrumental (plus vocal) performance practices, I came to find the chin rest is a 19th century invention. Does it affect the sound? Likely not; the chin-rest, does however, confirm a later playing style by inviting the performer to hold the instrument under the chin, where it's squeezed. Some detail of the early instruments--from the way they were played, to the types of strings, to the why it's held, all influenced the early MAK. For them to pick up with Italiante instruments and play early English music may be historically improper. But they are foremost a string ensemble, and no one can deny anyone the desire to perform the literature they derive pleasure (or a living) from... If we look at the music, and consider its passage through time, we may ask... "If this was picked up by an ensemble (or would it have been) in say, 1730, how might they have played it?" My guess (and it's only a guess) would be: a) they wouldn't bother; however it may be studied as a relic; b) if they did play it, they'd use their "modern" instruments of the day. Our modern-day obsession with the past hasn't seen the light of day since the humanists of the Renaissance re-invented ideas from the Greeks. We know they did a miserable job, and hopefully we're doing at least better, in re-living the sound world of the Baroque. This is breathing music. It's played well enough, but too many times I heard the real viols of Fretwork making a more convincing case. MAK has a better sounding recording, and more variety on disc. But instead of harpsichord, should we not have lute as the continuo instrument? There is more interpretive freedom that could be exercised in these works, for sure, especially with dynamics. MAK makes some statements, but nothing too profoundly original with their reading. This was ultimately a disappointing release, but not so much for the performance, as the music itself. To understand it, I believe, we have to look at the culture from which it came. For lovers of Dowland's art, he no doubt had talents this fan of Biber have missed. I take credit for not finding his gifts.