Perfectly realised viol consort music from Fretwork

Jenkins, J: Consort Music for Four Parts


The viol music of John Jenkins (1592-1678) may not be familiar to many readers although it is well known among amateur viol players. English viol consort music is one of the first long traditions of purely abstract instrumental music. It was very popular in England from the time of William Cornyshe (around 1520) to Henry Purcell (around 1680). These seventeen pieces for four viols probably date from the early part of Jenkins’ life.

For more than thirty years, Fretwork have been performing and recording English consort music including such gems as the award winning complete Fantazias of Purcell and Dowland’s Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares. Commendably Fretwork have also commissioned more than 40 new works from prominent composers of our time.

It is not quite possible to fit these works onto a single CD so what we have here is a double CD set for the price of one. It is also available as a lossless, 96 kHz, 24 bit download.

These thoughtful, subtle, beautifully crafted pieces for viol consort, by Jenkins, take the genre to its ultimate level of refinement. My colleague remarked that viol music was written for the performer not the listener! However on this excellent recording Fretwork prove, once again, to be a highly expressive group who certainly communicate with the listener. Each of the works – mostly Fantasies – consists of a pattern of closely interwoven textures, with all parts equal and no one voice dominant. The interplay between the players on this recording is exceptional and the sound is perfectly tuned and finely balanced as we have come to expect from the world’s finest viol consort.

These are melancholic works; poetic rather than pretty, that deserve one’s full attention rather than casual listening. When played well, as in the case of these beautiful performances, John Jenkins’ work can be deeply satisfying and deserves to be heard more widely. Highly recommended.

iClassical rating: 

Stream on Spotify or purchase from Presto Classical.