It is hard to imagine how English string consort Phantasm could improve on its prior release, the excellent Avie disc Four Temperaments. Perhaps Phantasm also realized this, for the follow-up, Avie's John Jenkins: Five-Part Consorts, represents a slight shift of gears in approach from Four Temperaments and yet manages to continue the thread of historic argument begun with the earlier album. Whereas Four Temperaments focused on four composers from the time of William Byrd, including Byrd himself, John Jenkins comes from a slightly later phase in the development of English consort music. Regarded as a major figure in his own time, greater appreciation of Jenkins' strengths as a composer have been hindered to some extent by the sheer bulk of his surviving output of more than 800 pieces. While certain works of Jenkins are popular with string consort groups and often anthologized, whole discs devoted to his output remain relatively rare. One can find no evidence that any of the five-part consorts featured here have been recorded before -- ever.
Phantasm is firing on all cylinders for every note of the 20 works included and the recording is excellent, capturing all of the subtle intricacies produced by the five instruments; to cover Jenkins' fifth part, guest tenor violist Mikko Perkola is added to the mix. Phantasm achieves a full, rich texture and at times almost choral sense of fluidity; for example, check out the Pavan 3 in F that concludes the program. While the disc has a generally appealing sound and will provide great, relaxing background music for weary ears -- these pieces, after all, were written to entertain private citizens who enjoyed comfortable incomes -- repeated listening reveals the depth of complexity of Jenkins' textures and his probative and greatly variable approach to evoking certain emotional states as well. Phantasm's John Jenkins: Five-Part Consorts is not something that one will buy, play a couple of times, and then forget about forever; it is designed for the long haul, and chances are that listeners will still find revelatory details in it 30 years down the line. While not as urgently recommended to fanciers of English consort music as Phantasm's Four Temperaments would be, John Jenkins: Five-Part Consorts is a very, very strong entry -- if they continue in this historical direction, hopefully Phantasm will run into Matthew Locke.