Bayan Northcott
BBC Music Magazine
February 2021

Renowned in his own lifetime as the pre-eminent poet-composer of his day, Guillaume de Machaut (c1300-77) took special care for the preservation of his output, having his collected works copied into a series of lavish presentation manuscripts—the vocal contents of which the Orlando Consort have been steadily recording for Hyperion since 2012. However, their approach is rather different from the refined blend of such pioneering groups as Gothic Voices; exploiting, instead, the contrasts in timbre and character between the four voices and varying in manner from rough to smooth depending upon the texts and genres of different pieces.

The most celebrated item in this latest collection is the rondeau for three voices Ma fin est mon commencement in which the principal melody is heard in counterpoint with itself sung backwards while the lowest line reverses itself halfway through. The most demanding listen is the 18-minute lai En demantant et lamentante, in which four paragraphs of polyphony are each repeated three times with different voices emphasised. The most exciting is the final motet Tant doucement m’ont attrait in which, over a slow bass line, the top parts challenge and dodge one another at the double.