John JENKINS. Complete Four-Part Consort Music — Fretwork



Todd M. McComb, 15 March 2018

Jenkins' four-part consort music (mostly fantasias) continues to attract interest, most recently with a new complete recording from Fretwork. There's no discussion of how they decided what did & didn't belong in this "complete" collection, just as there is no discussion of repertory accompanying Spirit of Gambo's second volume — which includes material not on this set, but also fills some obvious gaps from their first volume. (It also includes some tracks involving organ, so that seems different enough.)

I guess I hadn't been following some of Fretwork's recent albums, particularly as they continue to venture outside of "consort music" proper, but I do note that the personnel is almost entirely different from their days as pioneers: Richard Boothby remains, and so apparently this is his ensemble now (and maybe it always was?). In any case, it's worthwhile to be able to hear a different interpretation of this repertory (at least the fourth that's at least partially "complete"), and it's interesting that the four-part music seems to attract the most attention. Presumably this is because of its similarity (in forces) to the coming (and eventually dominant) string quartet oeuvre, but do note that Jenkins' fantasias are generally for treble, two tenors & bass, rather than doubling the top end.

In any case, the Fretwork set is enjoyable, even elegant, but I'd call it more rhetorical than Spirit of Gambo, and less colorful. (This might be because the latter use larger instruments with less string tension, but then, Fretwork doesn't state the nature of their instruments in this regard.) There's almost an austere mood in comparison with the richer sound of the latter. The differences are modest, however, and the Fretwork set is perfectly recommendable as an illustration of some of the central music of this general repertory. That so many English consort performances come off in such satisfying manner these days is certainly a welcome development.