Simone Eckert

John Jenkins: Fantasy Suites

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The booklet for this German release, with an impressive 13 footnotes, presents English composer John Jenkins as a transitional figure between Renaissance and Baroque, an idea borne out by the "Fantasy Suite" title of several of the works here. They are indeed hybrids of the Elizabethan-era polyphonic fantasia with the smaller Baroque dance movements that British composers of the seventeenth century's second quarter were beginning to import and observe in continental models: in four of the compositions here Jenkins simply adds suite movements to an opening fantasy. It's an effective combination, resolving the learned and serious fantasy, which in Jenkins' hands still involved a good deal of chromatic invention, into simpler dances. The texture anticipates the trio sonata, with most of the music written for violin (these were among the first British violin compositions), viola da gamba, and a written-out continuo part taken by an organ, or in one case a theorbo. The booklet (in German, French, and English) contains plenty of interesting detail, tracing out Jenkins' career and following up to the time of the music-hostile Commonwealth, from which two of these pieces probably date. "Many chose rather to fidle at home, than to go out, and be knockt on the head abroad," noted one chronicler. The reserved, accurate style of the Hamburger Ratsmusik under the direction of gambist Simone Eckert fits the chamber atmosphere well; most of the music was likely written for Jenkins' noble students in the comfort of their own homes. The sound, a co-production of Deutschland Radio, is from a Siemens studio and is especially fine: clear, intimate, and direct. Jenkins continues to be an underrated figure from the decades between the great flowering of Elizabethan music and the youth of Purcell, but this disc makes a strong case for appreciating his music on its own terms.

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