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GRAMOPHONE (06/2015)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch


I cannot recall quite so targeted a selection of John Jenkins’s viol music: previous recitals by Phantasm, Fretwork and Jérôme Hantaï have mixed different types of scoring or genre, whereas here we are given all 17 of his four-voice fantasias in one go. The great variety within this unity may only reveal itself gradually but the fantasia was regarded as the highest form of untexted musical invention, and in Jenkins’s hands it amply rewards repeated listening. A contemporary commentator states that he breathed new life into the fantasia, and even with just four voices there is plenty to keep the attentive listener happily preoccupied: the sequence that ratchets up the tonality one step at a time in the 12th Fantasia is perhaps the most striking example among many.


The Accademia Strumentale Italiana, based in Verona, acquit themselves admirably. On this showing their approach to the viol repertory is nearer Fretwork’s than Phantasm’s and they convey the sense of alert concentration that is essential in this music. A word might be said of their decision to pitch the music a fourth lower than ‘written’ pitch, so that the top parts are entrusted to an alto viol rather than a treble, and the bottom part to a violone. Whatever the historical arguments for or against this approach, and while acknowedging the added richness of tone it affords, it must be said that the violone may struggle to make itself heard on certain sound systems, especially when its part is especially low and active. Once noted, however, this reservation is easily cast aside.


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