All but one of the works here, including the opening Magnificat, are receiving their only recording in the current catalogue. Scan the other currently available recordings and the Gramophone reviews database or our own search engines and you won’t find that there are or have been too many other recordings of Compère's music. Of these one of the most significant also came from the Orlando Consort, back in 1994, on Metronome METCD1002. That earlier recording was billed as Christmas Music, perhaps to encourage purchasers—though it contains the Christmas Mass Hodie nobis de virgine, that’s the only concrete link with the season.
On other recordings Compère makes a walk-on entrance, as on budget-price Hyperion Helios CDH55423 where his Omnium bonorum plena features on a programme centred on Dufay’s Missa Puisque je vis. That Hyperion recording is recommendable not least for Compère’s contribution, as also is a Tallis Scholars CD where his Dictes moy toutes voz pensées accompanies music by another underrated composer, Jean Mouton, including his Mass based on that tune (Gimell CDGIM047).
If for no other reason, then, this latest offering from the Orlando Consort is very worthwhile for the gaps which it fills in the catalogue, but it’s much more than that.
The four-part Magnificat, probably composed during Compère’s time in Milan, is now thought to date from well before the time of Josquin and Obrecht, whose dates have been recalculated, so it’s no longer necessary to regard this as the work of a lesser contemporary but rather as a precursor of Josquin’s style. Hyperion are even a little on the conservative side in listing Compère’s birth: other sources give it as c.1440.
It’s an understated rather than a florid setting, the Virgin Mary as a quiet handmaid of the Lord rather than overflowing with emotion, and it’s to the credit of the Orlando singers that they don’t try to make it more ‘impressive’. There’s medieval music a-plenty for late night de-stressing and this Magnificat joins the list.
The second work is a dual-texted chanson and motet: the upper voices sing a lament on the theme of the fickleness of Fortune while the bassus sings the words ‘O all ye that pass by, look and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow’, from the Lamentations of Jeremiah and used in the Improperia or Reproaches on Good Friday. A not uncommon feature of medieval music—some pieces even have three texts—it may be perplexing for modern listeners but works particularly well on this occasion, no small thanks again to the quality of the singing.
There’s a recording of Compère’s Passiontide music from Odehecaton and Paolo da Col, on a Cantus recording: his setting of the Officium de Cruce is coupled with music by Josquin, Obrecht and Weerbecke. Like the Orlando Consort’s Magnificat and O vos omnes, the performance is rather cool, but that’s preferable to making the music sound like Gesualdo long before his time.
Most of the rest of the programme consists of Compère’s vernacular chansons. Some of these, too, are pensive in nature, as in Dictes moy toutes voz pensées (track 3). The Consort are equally at home here and in the livelier chansons, as on the next track in Une plaisant fillette ung matin se leva—the old story of a girl got in trouble by a man at arms. In these pieces they show us an appropriately forthright manner.
The final piece, O bone Jesu, was recorded long ago on a classic album from David Munrow and his Early Music Consort of London, The Art of the Netherlands. Though made in the comparative infancy of the rediscovery of the music of the period, that remains an essential recording and I wouldn’t wish to be without it or most of the other recordings from that group. The Orlando Consort give the motet a little more time to breathe, thereby making it less immediate in appeal but more reflective and ending the programme in the quiet manner in which they began with the Magnificat.
The Hyperion recording is very good in 24-bit format. It won’t break the bank at £12.00 but I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with the ‘ordinary’ 16-bit (£7.99) or the CD (£10.50). The booklet is well up to Hyperion’s high standards though the translation sometimes bowdlerises the original: cul in Une plaisante fillette, for example, I think refers to a more intimate part of the anatomy than the backside. I suspect, too, that there’s an indelicate reference in the refrain of this chanson, entre deuz huis, literally between two doors, as translated in the booklet. Huis is an archaic word for door, as in the expression still current, huis clos, in private, but there may be more to it here.
Not, perhaps, the ideal introduction for those wishing to become interested in the music of this period, then—for that you might be better to turn to one of the many recordings which Gothic Voices made for Hyperion, now reissued on their budget Helios label—but well worthwhile for lovers of Josquin who want to know what went immediately before.