This is the second volume in the Orlando Consort’s Machaut Edition for Hyperion. I enjoyed the first, an award-winning CD entitled Le voir dit, on CDA67727, reviewed in DL News 2013/14, though I also suggested getting to know Machaut’s great Messe de Nostre Dame first, from the Oxford Camerata (Naxos 8.553833) or the Hilliard Ensemble (Hyperion CDA66358). That’s still, I think, the right order, first the Mass, then the earlier CD before the present one.
As Hyperion write in their publicity material, ‘Western music as we know it today—many individual lines of whatever nature combining in whatever manner into a single whole—has its roots in the fourteenth century, and most famously in the pioneering works of Guillaume de Machaut’. In his sacred music the process coalesced into the early renaissance polyphony which many listeners will know and love in its later sixteenth-century forms. There’s a direct line from Machaut’s Mass to the likes of Palestrina’s Missa Papæ Marcelli and Byrd’s three Masses.
The secular music on the other hand, ballade, rondeau, virelai and motet, the latter a different animal from the sacred motet, will probably appeal to a more limited audience. I would therefore favour sampling the two Orlando Consort albums from the Hyperion web-site unless you know that you are part of that potential audience. Works with three texts, often multi-lingual, four of which appear on this recording, are something of an acquired taste but well worth persevering with.
The Orlando Consort was formed with the purpose of recording the music of Machaut and his contemporaries and their scholarly credentials can be taken for granted, including use of the latest edition of the music; they even go to the extent of employing a pronunciation consultant, credited in the notes. More to the point they do their best to make the music as accessible to the modern listener as it would have been to Machaut’s contemporaries without compromising on authenticity. This is not the musical equivalent of reading Machaut’s contemporary Chaucer in Nevill Coghill’s translation so much as of reading him in an accurate edition such as the Riverside Chaucer with all its helpful translations and notes.
There isn’t much competition—none at all for some of these pieces—but you’ll find Il n’est dons de nature (B22) performed by Gothic Voices on The Spirits of England and France 3, music by Binchois and his contemporaries on budget-price Hyperion Helios CDH55283, a splendid recording which should be in any collection of late medieval/early renaissance music. Gothic Voices sing this ballade in a more forthright manner and at a faster tempo which may be more immediately appealing, but I’m not going to attempt a judgement of Solomon between two such distinguished ensembles.
Ensemble Musica Nova perform a collection of Machaut ballades on Æon AECD0982. The result in Il n’est dons de nature and Phyton, le mervilleus serpent (B38) is undeniably beautiful and more immediately appealing to the modern ear than either Gothic Voices or the Orlando Consort. That said, although the notes indicate that they have taken pains to use the French pronunciation of the fourteenth century and the singing is undeniably beautiful, I’m left wondering whether a degree of authenticity has been sacrificed to make the music more appealing to the modern ear. I have the same slightly nagging doubt about the singing of Phyton, le mervilleus serpent on a Machaut CD entitled Mon chant vous envoy from Marc Mauillon and others on Eloquentia EL1342, which also includes an instrumental backing. I mentioned the backing as making the music more appealing—DL Roundup May 2012/2—but now I wonder. I don’t have doubts about authenticity with the Orlando Consort and Gothic Voices.
I’ve already mentioned Gothic Voices in a single Machaut piece but there’s a complete album entitled The Mirror of Narcissus (CDA66087) on which they perform his music. The CD descended through no fault of its own to limited availability through the Archive Service but it is readily available as a download from hyperion-records.co.uk in mp3 or lossless format, complete with pdf booklet, for just £5.99, which I recommended in DL Roundup May 2012/2.
The Orlando Consort close their programme with Rose, lis, printemps, verdure—I defy you to get more archetypal courtly love concepts into four words—which Gothic Voices also perform. This time there is almost complete agreement on the right tempo for the piece but here again Gothic Voices are more forthright in their interpretation. Lovers of Machaut’s music really will have to bite the bullet and have both—after all, there’s very little duplication. The Mirror of Narcissus comes as an inexpensive download, in excellent sound, and how could you not want a recording featuring Emma Kirkby?
I really did not like an arrangement of Machaut’s music for shawm and accordion on a Genuin album combining his music with some modern pieces (Mixtura, GEN13284), despite Jake Barlow’s enthusiasm.
I listened to the new Hyperion recording in 24/88.2 download format; I also sampled the less expensive mp3. Both are very good of their kind. There’s also a 16-bit lossless version at the same very reasonable price as the mp3—from hyperion-records.co.uk.
The booklet is up to Hyperion’s usual high standard. As well as an eye-catching cover from the Très riches heures du Duc de Berry, also used as the CD tray insert, and an illustration from one of the manuscripts of the music, the notes by Anne Stone are very informative, including a lucid explanation of the duplex and triplex forms.
Lovers of Machaut’s music are becoming more fortunate all the time and this new recording adds to the bounty.