The long life of John Jenkins (1592-1678) spans an era that witnessed the greatest achievements of the English viol consort composers. His outstanding contribution to this repertoire was substantial, including as it does works that conform to the strictly contrapuntal style of his predecessors in addition to those that admitted to newer, Italianate trends.
The 12 fantasies, two In nomines and two pavans included here belong firmly in the former category. In a characteristically entertaining note, Phantasm’s director Laurence Dreyfus makes that the point that this is not, as is sometimes suggested, music for amateurs, the contrapuntal writing demanding equal facility and technique in all six parts.
For the same reason, the often-dense counterpoint means that neither is it music for idle listening. Yet for the attentive listener it makes for a highly rewarding experience, since Jenkins’ writing is crafted with the utmost skill and is never formulaic. Dreyfus cites Fantasia 5 as an obvious example, but one might equally note that Fantasia 1 moves from a mood of playfulness and syncopated dance rhythms to one of austere gravity. Those unfamiliar with the music might turn first to the two pavans, particularly the one in F, a relatively familiar piece with a lovely opening strain that taps into that peculiarly English vein of melancholy.
The performances are throughout beautifully judged, sensing unerringly the rises and falls of tension – listen, for example, to the superb build-up and release the players achieve in In Nomine 2. This is a magnificent recording.