In the first of three discs devoted to the 17th-century English composer John Jenkins, Phantasm explores his six-part consorts – ‘sublime discourses’, as they were fittingly described by Jenkins’s contemporary Thomas Mace.
These works really stretch the art of consort playing to its limits, demanding at once technical bravura and an expressive palette that ranges from sombre intensity to radiant joie-de-vivre. Phantasm deserves full marks for these laudable interpretations: indeed, so harmonious is their mutual musical vision that it is hard to believe there are really six individual players at work here. Their ‘discourse’ is lucid and animated, characterised by eloquent articulation, a luminous sound and finely judged internal balance. The all-pervasive dance rhythms are brought out with a supple lightness of touch while moments of melancholy and reflection are given due weight. Jenkins couldn’t resist introducing a dash of fashionable Italianate flamboyance into these works, and treble, tenor and even bass viol constantly vie for virtuosic supremacy. Nothing daunted, these adroit players negotiate Jenkins’s detailed counterpoint with fleet-fingered dexterity, and ever more intricate elaborations are cast around with brazen panache. The results are a delicious mix of Italianate sprezzatura and English restraint.