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John JENKINS (1592-1678)
Fantasias, Pavans and Airs in four parts
Track listing below review
The Spirit of Gambo
rec. June 2012, Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem
MUSICA FICTA MF8019 [60:27]

This isn’t the first time that this ensemble has recorded the music of John Jenkins. Their 2011 disc devoted to his consort music in four parts was released on MF8011, and now they return to him, this strange-sounding band whose name sounds like a Victorian illusionist or a tribute act. The ensemble is five strong and flexible, and two of the players double, thus they play two treble viols, two tenor, and two bass, in varying combinations, with organ. They sound supremely attuned to Jenkins’s aesthetic, which is predicated on flowing expressive lines and an elegance of counterpoint. It's quite unlike the music of his more abrasive and avant-garde near-contemporary William Lawes.

Half the programme consists of a well-programmed sequence of Fantasias whilst there are also three Airs and three Pavans, and a single Galliard. Two things are especially noticeable about the performances. Firstly, the tempi are entirely natural-sounding, flowing but never rushed, and ensuring that articulation is precise but never fussy. Second, one notices the rich consort sound which is, to a large extent, due to the timbre of their instruments, made by Gesina Liedmeier. They and the bows are based on appropriately seventeenth-century models. I should also add that the excellence of the instrumentalists is, obviously, a significant factor too. Jenkins’s Fantasias are gracious and refined, but also show elements of prevailing melancholy – such as in Fantasia XXVI – and a judicious employment of counterpoint. The settings in which the organ is employed – and there are six altogether in a recital of fourteen pieces – are the most interior. The Pavan XXVII is a particularly good example of Jenkins’s discreetly plangent expression, never as doleful as Dowland, never as experimental as Lawes, but charting his own balanced course. Programmatically it makes sense to follow it with the more ebullient side of his musical character, richly reflected in the Fantasia XV, in C.

You can gauge how sympathetic you will be to the sound-world produced by The Spirit of Gambo in a piece such as Pavan IX, where the expressive lower two bass viol voices are contrasted with the more limpid treble viol. This lends distinction throughout, not least to the noble gravity and timeless quality enshrined in the Pavan in D, one of the most magnificent of the settings in this programme.

These first-class performances have been sensitively recorded in the Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem, a frequent venue for early music. In every way this ensemble, with its odd name, is turning out outstandingly good discs.

Jonathan Woolf

Track listing
Fantasia VI [3:16]
Fantasia XXVI [3:25]
Fantasia X [5:08]
Air XIII [3:13]
Pavan XXVII [7:09]
Fantasia XV [2:50]
Air I [4:08]
Pavan IX [6:22]
Galliard XXIV [2:20]
Pavan I [5:53]
Fantasia XXX1 [3:56]
Air II [3:59]
Fantasia XV11 [3:55]