Looking at the CDs
already produced by this wonderful group
of viol players (Phantasm), you will
notice that in 2005 they recorded Jenkins’
six-part consorts, fantasies and pavans.
They have also worked for Channel Classics
and Simax, and have tackled Purcell
as well as much earlier repertoire.
It is good indeed that they have now
turned their attention to these even
more complex works, written probably
in the 1620s when Jenkins was at the
height of his powers.
Jenkins is a very significant
figure in the history of music in Britain
if not in Europe as he is a long-lived
link between Byrd and Tallis and Purcell.
When he was born Byrd was about fifty.
When he died Purcell, by then about
twenty, had written his viol fantasies
and In Nomines and possibly some of
his well-known church music.
Jenkins may well have
spent much of his early life in the
employ of the Countess of Warwick around
the London area where he will have come
into contact with the leading composers
of his day. I suspect one may have been
John Coperario, a considerable composer
for viols and another the great Thomas
Tomkins. At the other end of his life
he worked in Norfolk for the family
of Sir Philip Wodehouse where, at Kimberly,
an epitaph for him can still be found,
‘Under this stone rare
The Master of the Musick
And this chimes in
with Laurens Dryfus, the founder of
Phantasm who ends his detailed and fascinating
notes for this CD by saying "Let
me come straight out with it: Jenkins
is a marvel."
Jenkins then can be
seen as a successor in the line of the
English school of polyphonists; certainly
his counterpoint is extraordinary and
masterly. But he is also is a contemporary
of the more ‘modern’ sounding though
shorter-lived, William Lawes who was
an innovator and had a curiously bizarre
turn of mind. Jenkins is not immune
from this new style nor is he immune
from some aspects of French music which
had percolated across the Channel during
the reign of Charles I. Put this lot
together and you have a potent and varied
mix, here superbly captured.
I have listed the Fantasies
above in the order in which they occur
on the disc. I wonder why they were
not presented in numerical order. If
it’s for the sake of contrast then,
I would argue that very few will listen
to the entire CD from start to finish
in one sitting. It can’t be for key
contrast because no less than five Fantasies
based around D follow in succession
(8-12). Anyway, one can programme a
disc for oneself in any old order. I
chose to listen to them in numerical
order in the belief, not entirely unjustified,
that it might well have been practically
the order in which Jenkins wrote them.
Indeed perhaps this is also the order
in which he intended us to see and play
them. All of the Fantasies are offered
here and three Pavans which are randomly
spaced around them. The disc ends, rather
bizarrely, with the third Pavan.
and gently analyses a few pieces in
his notes as exemplars. It gives you
an idea what you might hear. Let us
take a piece which he highlights: Fantasy
No. 8. He calls this colourfully "a
morose work"! in D minor "plagued
by indecision". Dreyfus talks of
its "uncomfortably similar themes"
which the composer has to work around.
Treated imitatively and winding from
bottom to top, the initial idea is played
in all registers. The music ‘wanders’
in semi-quaver passages but still the
opening persists. Eventually, rising
ever-higher, new lines are introduced
and the music seems to be "perpetually
distressed". The second half of
the Fantasy from 1.56 "is devoted
to a new theme" but which is still
melancholy with the ideas "drawn
from vocal polyphony"; an astute
judgement this. Nicely contrasted with
this is a jolly Fantasy in D major,
more jig-like. These two together reminded
me of a contrasted Pavan and Galliard
a form which by that time was only vaguely
out of fashion.
Mention should be made
of these lovely and idiomatic performances.
Do you remember when a viol consort
was greeted with a subdued moan, and
often played in a way that lacked energy?
Well, think again. These performances
are full of life. Do I also detect the
occasional little bit of vibrato? Why
not? Dynamics are created out of the
rise and fall of the music and its tension
and release. Super balance also, and
a quite natural recording despite what
I thought at first would be an unpromising
I like this disc and
although it might appear to be a little
bit ‘niche market’, if you are interested
in this repertoire then this is a very
good place to start.