Dufay’s secular music has, for me, always been a great joy. We were spoiled, of course, back in 1981 when Peter and Timothy Davies with ‘The Medieval Ensemble of London’ recorded Dufay’s complete secular works, now on a five disc box set on L’Oiseau Lyre. They used a group of top singers at the time with an instrumental group and it made a colourful set of records. Since then Dufay has continued to be recorded in all sorts of guises but this new disc with four male voices marks, not a new way of presenting music but one that is not so often encountered.
One of the many amazing things about the four men of the Orlando Consort is the amount of time they are spending in the Hyperion studios/churches as they are in the midst of recording Machaut’s complete works (with, I feel, mixed results) and they also produced in March 2017 a disc of early fifteenth century English music Beneath the northern star (CDA68132). Anyway they are in pretty good form here, with only occasional blemishes and moments when the music doesn’t quite hit their normal heights.
I especially like the chronological aspect of this recording, I don’t know if David Fallows who writes the usual exemplary booklets notes and indeed wrote the ‘bible’ on Dufay in the ‘Master musicians’ series (J.M. Dent 1982) was partially, at least, instrumental in putting together the programme, but it works very nicely beginning though, oddly with track 3 La Dolce vista which is more in the style of Ciconia so is probably very early, it is in Italian and described as a ballata. I say oddly, because the disc opens with two polytextual pieces. The first O trés piteux/Omnes amici a lament for the fall of Constantinople and then Je vous pri/ Ma trés douce amie/Tant que mon argent dura which apparently dates from as late as 1470. Neither comes off quite as well as the rest of the disc. After that the programme works through to the last pieces, a set of late rondeau including the wonderfully expressive and clever Le serviteur. Other forms heard include the virelai, ballade and in the case of the second track a ‘Combative Chanson’ of which I have never before heard.
It was often the case in the notation of medieval and renaissance music that only one or sometimes two of the parts were texted. The Orlandos now do the standard thing of vocalising the non-texted parts as in the beautiful rondeau Par le regard. Some performers and scholars believe that these parts were instrumental as were also the melismas normally at the ends of phrases. This can also work well as with the Gothic Voices disc The Dufay Spectacle which came out in 2018.
Its good also that some of the songs are less often recorded or less well known like Pouray je avoir and Belle, que vous ay je mesfait? But one of the strengths of the group is the beautiful balance, which only occasionally mis-fires, and their tremendous concept of a suitable tempo for each song also of course their superb diction and use of vowels.
It’s good finally to have a disc completely of Dufay which is totally a capella, and even if you have discs by other groups from other eras this will add perfectly to your collection. All texts are included and well translated.