Guillaume de Machaut’s pre-eminence during his lifetime (c.1300-1377) was built upon his exceptional gifts as a poet and song-writer. In all their variety of invention the fourteen settings on this release, the fifth from the Orlando Consort’s survey of Machaut for Hyperion, encompass the miseries and ecstasies of love as depicted on Fortune’s wheel, a familiar presence in fourteenth-century poetry and art. To this emotional range the performers respond with unfailing commitment; the singing is distinctive throughout, and makes an especially rewarding experience.
The singers are immersed in Machaut’s melodic contortions and rhythmic complexities, evident immediately in the upbeat ‘Gais et joli’. Equally impressive is ‘Trop plus et bele’, its buoyant rhythms heard to impressive effect. Most startling is ‘Hé! Mors! / Fine Amour / Quare non sum mortuus’ in which Machaut’s ingenuity is realised in robust renditions with finely-tuned ensemble, the multi-layered textures dispatched almost with defiance.
Some well-shaped solo contributions bring relief, exhibiting Machaut’s seemingly inexhaustible monophonic invention and also these artists’ attention to detail in matters of phrasing, tonal weight, colour, nuance, subtlety, and the capacity for creating a narrative. Elsewhere, much is persuasive; a warm consoling tone is put to good use, such as in the despairing ‘Riches d’amour’—which makes me reach for the repeat button. Excellent recorded sound, and a comprehensive booklet note, with texts and translations, come as standard.