Notes and Editorial Reviews
For someone as long-lived as John Jenkins, we know remarkably little about his early life and his training. His life spanned four reigns plus Cromwell’s Commonwealth. He was probably the son of a Maidstone cabinet-maker, but his father left some eleven musical instruments in his will so music was somehow in the air. In the absence of any further concrete evidence, it is supposed that Jenkins was placed as an apprentice to a musician resident in the household of a gentleman.
A connection to the gentry would be important for much of Jenkins’ life. He played for Charles I and had a court appointment under Charles II, but would have been over seventy when Charles II was restored. Not surprisingly he spent much of his later life
living with various aristocratic supporters in East Anglia. This was also where he spent the interregnum, providing music for a Catholic family who were intent on keeping their heads down.
Much of his music was written to be played in the great houses. These are not works written for the concert hall, but the players must have had some considerable expertise. A thread that goes through many of the pieces, is the rhythmic interest in melodic lines and the sheer trickiness of Jenkins’ writing.
This selection of his music, originally recorded in 1981, provides examples of his writing for three types of ensemble. First of all comes the music for viol consorts, Fantasias and In Nomines for 6, 5 and 4-part viol consorts. This is seriously satisfying music, lively but not too showy in which you can imagine Jenkins and his fellow players taking pleasure in its almost conversational give-and-take.
Not all Jenkins’ writing was serious. He wrote a significant number of dance-inspired lighter pieces. Here we also see another change to Jenkins’ style, the gradual replacement of treble viols by violins. In his scores Jenkins gives the option of playing the upper parts on viol or violin. In these cases the Consort of Musicke choose violins.
The Fantasias developed into Fantasy Suites, usually three movement works where the opening Fantasia is followed by two dance-inspired movements and featuring a significant role for the organ. These suites were influenced by the example of Coprario, but whereas Coprario’s writing is eminently suitable for the violin, Jenkins writes his upper parts in such a way as to make it possible to play them on violin or viol.
His final Fantasy Suites for two violins, two bass viols and continuo, a set of eight represented on this disc by Fantasy Suite no. 1 in G minor, probably represent his swansong. Though as with many of Jenkins’ works, exact dating is difficult.
I am a little confused as to who is playing what on this disc. The track-listing omits to say for which instrumental grouping the works were written. You must comb the article in the CD booklet to find this information. This article also states "On this recording the violin is used for all optional treble parts" without making clear which works this applies to, which is not terribly helpful. All the information is there in the booklet, but not in a form easily digestible by the listener. Still, that is really a small niggle.
Naxos have deleted their disc of Jenkins’ consorts so anyone wanting to explore this fascinating but neglected composer must look further afield. The performances on this disc do not show their age and represent music-making of a high order. I could imagine the viol consorts being played with darker textures, here the players keep the lines light and beautifully shaped and articulated. This disc is available at mid-price, a bit more than the Naxos disc, but certainly worth considering.
-- Robert Hugill, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
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