Jenkins: Complete four-part consort music

Fretwork (Signum)

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Jenkins Complete four-part consort music: Fantasias Nos 1-17; Pavan in D minor; Pavan in E minor
Fretwork
Signum Classics SIGCD528 83:02 mins (2 discs)

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John Jenkins’s long life stretched from the last years of Elizabeth I’s reign to the early years of the Restoration – turbulent decades that saw the Gunpowder Plot, the Civil War, and the execution of Charles I. Yet, despite these troubled times, his music for viol consort retains a serenity that sets it aside from his moodier contemporary William Lawes.

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Scored for treble, two tenors and bass viol, the works on this disc comprise 17 felicitous Fantasias and two Pavans which plumb more melancholy depths. Jenkins casts mellifluous melodies, choreographs fleet and supple dances, and weaves musical conversations that flit from playful banter to complex discourse. Fretwork have been at the helm of viol consort playing for more than 30 years, and despite changes in personnel (Richard Boothby the only founder member still with the group), they’ve lost none of their verve or polish – as this disc testifies. The players envelop you in a sound here silky, there velvety. Fluid tempos highlight that lyrical ‘flowing vein’ that Jenkins’s contemporaries so admired, and the balance slightly favours the treble viol (airily played by Asako Morikawa), so enhancing the music’s melodious quality. Contrapuntal lines ebb and flow, allowing the strands of each conversation to rise and fall, and there’s some subtle dynamic shading, too (though don’t expect the drama of a Beethoven string quartet). Fretwork’s chief rival in the four-part consorts is the Dutch ensemble Spirit of Gambo (on Musica Ficta) whose slower tempos and edgier, more plangent sound paint Jenkins in altogether more shadowy tones.

Kate Bolton-Porciatti