John JENKINS (1592 - 1678)
The Pleasing Slumber
Pavine [6.18]; Almaine [3.08]; Coranto [1.38]; Saraband [1.12]; Sonata [5.30]; Aire [2.09]; Coranto [1.19]; Saraband [1.08]; Fantasy [5.05]; Ayre [4.10]; Corant [2.25]; The 5 Bells [6.18]; Pavan [3.38]; Ecco Coranto [2.39]; Fantasy [5.49]; Almand [3.44]; Corant [2.16]; Almaine [2.57]; Coranto [1.58]; Saraband [2.04]; The Pleasing Slumber [3.22]
Sophie Gent (violin); Romina Lischka (bass viol, lyra viol); Francois Guerrier (harpsichord, organ); Philippe Pierlot (lyra viol, bass viol)
rec. 16-18 October 2008, church of Basse-Bodeux
FLORA 1809 [68.51]
John Jenkins was a long-lived composer with an equally long working life: some sixty years. He lived through major changes politically, culturally and musically. Our first certain record of him has him performing in a masque for Charles I. The aged Jenkins played the lyra viol for Charles II, who commented that he did ‘wonders on an inconsiderable instrument’. His long, prolific career as a composer spanned English musical life from William Byrd to Henry Purcell. He was a friend of the composer William Lawes who was killed in battle during the Civil War though his music pushes fewer boundaries than that of Lawes.
Essentially conservative in style, Jenkins was influenced by earlier composers such as Ferrabosco (the younger), Coprario and Gibbons. During the Civil War Jenkins was sheltered by a series of Royalist households. Finally in the 1650s he became resident music-master to Lord Dudley North whose son, Roger North, wrote Jenkins’ biography.
It was during the Commonwealth that Jenkins wrote a considerable number - over seventy - suites for amateur household players. Household music-making represented almost the only entertainment of that type possible under the regime.
Around 57 pieces by Jenkins for lyra viol consort survive. The form of this consort, with a violin (or treble viol) on top, a cello or bass viol on the bottom and the middle filled in by lyra viol and possibly harpsichord, is essentially a transitional form. Earlier in the century, the viol consort, with four equally polyphonic voices, was the norm creating the familiar rather dense texture. Later it would be two violins and bass with harpsichord filling in the middle, so the texture would become far less polyphonic.
The lyra viol is not so much an instrument as a way of playing. The lyra viol was generally a bass viol, played with variant tunings and with a part notated in tablature. In these consorts the lyra viol helps fill in the texture in a middle ground between harpsichord and full polyphony. Most of the principal early sources for these seem to have been copied at Kirtling, the home of the Norths.
This disc on the Flora label, by an unnamed group, presents us with a selection of Jenkins’ ‘Aires for a treble, lyra, base and harpsechord’. The treble being, generally, the violin though we should remember that Jenkins’ contemporaries would have equally used a treble viol. The lyra viol being Jenkins own instrument, we are allowed to listen to this disc and imagine Jenkins and his employers playing this music together at Kirtling. Incidentally the gatehouse at Kirtling still exists and the gardens are occasionally open under the National Gardens Scheme.
Listening to this disc is something of an exercise in the innocent ear. Not only do the ensemble not give themselves a name but there are no liner-notes beyond a single quotation by Roger North. The works are listed by name only, with no keys, no dates and no numbers. With a couple of exceptions, I can’t securely identify the music played. In fact, this doesn’t matter because what we have is a delightfully civilised and intimate entertainment.
The textures are very rich, with a surprising depth to the sound. Jenkins’ writing, whilst conservatively civilised, is full of lively quirks which hold the interest. The ensemble vary between using a harpsichord and an organ as the keyboard instrument. Other groups have recorded this type of repertoire using a theorbo. Any of these is probably acceptable. I do find that adding an organ makes the texture a little glutinous.
There are three named pieces. The first, The Five Bells, is one of Jenkins’ pieces which refer not only to bell-ringing but also to the relatively new English practice of change-ringing. The piece includes some delightfully bell-like passages though Jenkins is never slavish. The Echo Coranto utilises an obvious, but very charming echo effect. The sequence concludes with the haunting air, The Pleasing Slumber which gives the CD its name.
This is a lovely disc, only slightly marred by the paucity of information provided. Simply put it on, relax and listen to some finely intelligent music-making which evokes nicely the mid-17th century style of chamber music.
A lovely disc. Relax and listen to some finely intelligent music-making.