The 21st century sees the market for early music saturated to a point where it is often no longer viable to offer straightforward recordings of early repertory. To make their mark artists must attract attention in other ways, and the degree of creative fantasy seems on the increase. The CDs reviewed here neatly capture this range, from the conventional to the downright eccentric.
As Roger North reports, John Jenkins (1592–1678) ‘had a very great hand on the consort viol’ and with this consort experience came a thorough understanding of the potential of weaving intricate counterpoint for six viols. His six-part consort music (12 Fantasies, two In Nomines and two Pavans) presents a substantial technical test to all six players, in which the frequently energetic, muscular themes are shared equally among the violists, presenting a lively challenge for the overall ensemble. Phantasm's ensemble on their new recording Jenkins: Six-part consorts (Avie AV 2009, rec 2005, 66') is faultless, and each work is beautifully conceived as a whole with wonderful musical intelligence and clarity. Take, for example, Jenkins' Fantasy no.5, which opens with an extended meditation on Dowland's Lacrimae verae until disturbed by a spirited dance played with splendidly earthy crispness; this gives way to an elegant Almain which is quickly interrupted by an unusual figure based on 3rds, aptly described in Laurence Dreyfus's liner notes as like entering ‘a room crammed with tick-tocking clocks’. The composition concludes broadly, moving through some delicious passing modulations, notably from B major to G major—which Phantasm shapes most lovingly, before concluding with a plagal cadence in D. North hints how Jenkins embraced a wide spectrum of emotions in his own performance, playing with ‘wonderful agility, and odd humours’; this is fittingly matched by Phantasm's professed enjoyment in ‘taking risks in its search for renditions that renew the expressive traditions of early music’.