John Jenkins: Four-Part Consorts – Fantastical journeys

John Jenkins Four-Part Consorts
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Artist: Phantasm, Daniel Hyde
Genre: Classical
Label: Linn Records CKD 677

For more than two centuries the string quartet has been regarded as the epitome of chamber music for four players. Of course there were earlier peaks, too, most notably in England in the writing of consort music for viols. Laurence Dreyfus and his ensemble Phantasm have been working their way through the six- and five-part consorts by John Jenkins (1592-1678) and have now reached the 17 fantasies and two pavans for four players.

Well, not exactly four. Jenkins also allowed for the well-blended-in accompaniment of an organ as a touchstone to keep the string players’ intonation on the straight and narrow. Phantasm have elected to share the music with organist Daniel Hyde in less than half of these often intricate, contrapuntally unpredictable pieces.

Jenkins’s material is mostly unassuming, sometimes even plain, which makes the range of moods and the sometimes fantastical journeys he takes it on all the more surprising, with turns that mimic the effect of following a route in an impossible drawing by MC Escher. Or, as Dreyfus puts it in his accompanying note, “all the destinations visited along the route are unexpected: rather than tourism, Jenkins favours adventurous travel”. Phantasm play as to the manner born.

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan is a music critic and Irish Times contributor