Thursday, September 18, 2008

More from Phantasm

John Jenkins: Five-Part Consorts
Avie (AV 2120)
Phantasm (plus Mikko Perkola)


I had my introduction to Phantasm, Oxford University's consort-in-residence viol group about four months ago with their 1999 disc of 4- and 5-part consorts by William Lawes. That disc made a strong impression on me, and I subsequently sampled their 2004 disc, The Four Temperaments, featuring works of Byrd, Ferrabosco, Parsons and Tallis. So far, the group seem incapable of mundanity. They have been together since 1994, and I'm thrilled to continue working through their existing catalog of recordings.

This disc dates from 2007 and features the music of English composer John Jenkins (1592-1678). The little-known Jenkins was a friend of William Lawes, and appears to have spent his career toggling between official royal music-making and as the private composer to several wealthy English families. On the strength of these pieces he surely deserves to be better-known. These consorts have a wonderful assertive quality, conveying the composer's deep and exhilarating self-confidence.

Once again Phantasm and Laurence Dreyfus, this time assisted by the Finn Mikko Perkola, display the very highest standards of musicianship, bringing these works absolutely to life for us. I note this with every recording, I realize, but I'm always struck: the inherent blend of the gut-stringed viols and Phantasm's flawless articulation and intonation convince me that this ensemble could render almost any period's music to advantage. (Admittedly, there's a big dollop of personal preference at work here, but the recent Emerson String Quartet disc of fugues from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier--really capital idea though it is--only reminds me how much better these works would sound to my ear on gambas rather than violins.)

Whatever the truth of my views, it seems improbable that someone could improve on these settings here. Once again, highest marks.

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