Wednesday 21 March 2018

A sense of intelligent conversation: John Jenkins complete four-part consort music

John Jenkins - Fretwork - Signum Classics
John Jenkins complete four-part consort music; Fretwork; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 Mar 2018 Star rating: 5.0
Mellifluous, engaging with a lovely rhythmic vitality, the complete four-part viol music of this 17th century composer

John Jenkins had a long life, spanning the reigns of three monarchs and the civil war, and though he did have a position at the court of King Charles II he spent most of his life in service to noble families. This means that his music for viol consort was written for good amateurs. During the 1650s he was in the household of Lord North in Kirtling, during the Commonwealth, and it was during this period that much of his viol music was written.

On this disc from Signum Classics, we hear all of Jenkins' surviving music for four-part consort played by Fretwork (Asako Morikawa treble viol, Reiko Ichise tenor viol, Sam Stadlen & Emily Ashton tenor viol, Richard Boothby bass viol), 17 Fantasias and Two Pavans. Jenkins music is difficult to date and he was long lived (dying at the age of 86), generally the music on this disc is regarded as coming from the earlier part of Jenkins' life.

This is beautifully constructed music, Jenkins has a fine melodic sense with interesting harmony but overall what comes over is the feeling of conversation with four very equal voices participating. The different movements are all attractively varied, there is never a feeling of everything being the same. And all the movements have an engaging sense of rhythmic vitality to them. There are no surprises here, no rules broken, instead there is a lovely mellifluous quality. This is highly sophisticated music, with a complex interplay between parts, and though the viol consort was clearly going out of style as the 17th century progressed, there is no sense here of Jenkins being out of touch.

Though the music was written for amateurs, clearly these were highly skilled players, but they feel as if they are a delight to play. And we get a lovely sense of interplay between the members of Fretwork, they convey something of the feeling of intelligent conversation that this music evokes.

It might seem like rather daunting to listen to 19 movements for four viols, lasting over 80 minutes in total but this disc is anything but. Mellifluous and engaging, with a real sense of communication, this is delightful music, delightfully performed.

John Jenkins (1592-1678) - Complete four-part consort music
Recorded in St Mary Magdalene Church, Sherborne, Glos, 18-20 January 2016.
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD528 2CDs [42.35, 40.27]
Available from Amazon.

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