Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International
September 2015

So, after some twenty years, the Orlando Consort have returned to the sacred and secular works of Loyset Compère. In 1993 they recorded ten pieces for Metronome (CD1002-10). Interestingly there is no doubling up of any of the items.

I prefer this new disc for several reasons. The recording has more air around the voices, secondly the pieces are of a greater quality and thirdly I was never a fan of the balance and sound of the Orlandos in many of their earlier recordings. I was not sure why until I realised that I did not like the vocal blend of Robert Harre-Jones’ counter-tenor—a very personal feeling, I’m sure but there we are. At that time Charles Daniels was first tenor. The mellifluous Mark Dobell now takes his place, but I much prefer counter-tenor Matthew Venner whose fusion and balance are ideal. Angus Smith and the reliable and wonderfully controlled Donald Greig are still in place.

David Fallows in Hyperion’s fascinating and clear documentation makes out the case for Compère being Josquin’s older contemporary and therefore right up there in the stylistic vanguard of the day being 'the true originator of the fully imitative style that was continued and perhaps perfected by Josquin'. Writing for the Metronome disc Fallows commented that Compère was 'an attractive flawless technician'.

There are over fifty known works by him so he is no minor player. Weighing it all up we have even more reason to rejoice that this new disc has emerged and is so desirable.

A large-scale and strongly imitative Magnificat primi toni opens the disc and the motet O bone Jesu ends it. This latter might just as easily have been a renaissance Spanish piece and it certainly doesn’t sound like Compère. In any event it makes a gorgeous coda to the programme.

Tant ay d’ennuy /O vos omnes has a text which appears not only to be quite similar to other secular songs on this disc but is also characteristic of fifteenth century song in general: 'So much distress, so much misery have I/So bitter, piercing and mighty is my pain' because of unrequited love, of course. This work is a chanson-motet, a strange form, so-called because the bass line of this expressive three-part texture sings lines and the chant from the Lamentations of Jeremiah “… Attend and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow”.

We know the author of four of the other song texts. He was an associate of the composer, his name ‘Bourbon’ hides his identity as Duke Jean II of Bourbon (1427-1488). This helps pin Compère down to his service with the Bourbon court in the 1480s following on from Ockeghem who had been Compère’s teacher. The quite personal texts are Ne doibt on prendre quant on donne, a ‘chanson’ which is set in flowing imitation in three democratically treated parts. Dictes moy toutes voz pensées, ('Tell me all your hopes / For I want to know them'), the passionate Vous me faites morir de’envie ('You make me die from wishing / To kiss your lovely mouth') and the more lengthy and impatient Mes pensées ne me lessen une heure ('My cares do not leave me for an hour') in all of which the opening couplets return two or three times during the setting to create the ‘chanson-fixe’ form. Each is in three richly polyphonic parts with some gloriously melismatic passages as on ‘vie’ in the above third poem.

By contrast, the slightly risqué text of Une plaisant fillette is more like that set by early sixteenth century French composers like Passereau. It concerns a young woman who, scantily clad, meets a soldier early one morning. Fallows dates this four-part work to the 1490s but a decade later would be equally appropriate. Finally, Ung franc archier also gives the Orlandos a chance to sing with a different vocal approach in this folksy, obscure text. It's about a somewhat rough archer who eventually goes off to fight for the Duke of Burgundy. A strophic setting it has a four-part texture that involves a clever canon for the upper voices.

It's good that Loyset Compère is getting another chance as it were—especially with these fine secular songs. There is much more out there that would be fun to know and perform but until we have easily obtainable editions that could be a challenge. Meanwhile enjoy this disc which is produced to Hyperion’s usual high standards which include texts and excellent translations as well as David Fallows' essay.