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'... the Apollo Consort is wonderfully alert and sensitive.'

John Jenkins admired -


Lord North, who had roistered away much of his money at Prince Henry's court, had comparatively sober views about music in a letter of 1658: 'Our Frenchified Age requires rather a recollection and setling towards sobriety and gravity, than to be bubbled up to an over-Airy humour and lightness'.

John Jenkins would have agreed. As Roger, Lord North's grandson, tells us, Jenkins too had his moments at court. He played on the lyra viol to Charles I, 'with wonderful agility and odd humours, as (for instance) touching the great strings with his thumb, while the rest were held imployed in another way'. He was officially at court under Charles II, but showed up seldom: 'the masters indulged his non-attendance, on account of his great age, for they were (to a man) all kind to him'. Jenkins was attached to various great houses, and seems to have been welcomed not only for his musicianship: 'he was an accomplisht ingenious person, and so well behaved, as never to give offence'. He was prolific and lived to 86, by which time he had forgotten much he had written. Instrumental music was his domain, and he left more than 800 works.

Jenkins had a great tradition to build on. He had studied to advantage the Elizabethan and Jacobean masters of the string fantasy. Its essential gravity and expressiveness was varied with brief sections of lighter and brisker textures. No one was more skilful than Jenkins in making an organic whole of his disparate short sections, as is evident in Fantasia Suite no 1 [listen -- track 1, 0:00-1:00]. There is much richness on this CD. The parts chase each other through the score, never missing a chance to imitate or spur an instrument to the limits of virtuosity, while Jenkins prepares his modulations of mood and key with uncanny skill. The dexterity of the violin must be imitated by the viols down below, and is so to thrilling effect. One of the movements is called The Pleasing Slumber and is no exception. Its repeated sections are highly ornamented, and there is not a chance of sleep for player or listener [listen -- track 7, 0:00-1:12].

John Jenkins Consort Music (c) 1998 SOMM Recordings

The great variety of the music imposes tough demands on the performers; but the Apollo Consort is wonderfully alert and sensitive. The dark sonorities of low-pitched viols is no inhibition to maximum agility, and it does not matter what 'odd humours' Jenkins indulges in; the team's imagination is up to every whim. Jenkins can encompass a world of feeling in small space, shading his music with great subtlety; and it is a refreshment to savour the Consort's response. The organ sometimes doubles, sometimes supplements, and even has a few moments of solo limelight [listen -- track 10, 0:30-1:37]. In turning the pages of the newest Grove on my way to 'Jenkins', I came across 'Michael Jackson'. The Apollo players ensured that, despite wonderment and glee, I hardly lingered but passed swiftly on to enjoy more on this most delightful of composers from Andrew Ashbee, author of the admirable liner notes.

Copyright © 11 March 2001 Robert Anderson, London, UK







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