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Guillaume de MACHAUT (c.1300–1377)
A Burning Heart
Details after review
The Orlando Consort [Matthew Venner (countertenor); Mark Dobell, Angus Smith (tenor); Donald Greig (baritone)]
Rec. St John the Baptist, Loughton, Essex, 28 April-1 May 2014. DDD
Texts and translations included
HYPERION CDA68103 [58:57]

Reviewed as 24/96 download from hyperion-records.co.uk (available in mp3, 16- and 24-bit downloads with pdf booklet).  Also from Hyperion and dealers on CD.

This recording of courtly love songs is the third in a series of Machaut recordings from The Orlando Consort.  I welcomed its two predecessors:

- Songs from Le voir Dit: CDA67727 – Download News 2013/14
- The Dart of Love: CDA68008 – review
- and their recording of the music of Loyset Compère: Magnificat, motets and chansons CDA68069 – review review.

The new recording encompasses a variety of forms: virelai, rondeau, ballade and, in two cases, triple-texted secular motets.  There are works for one, two, three and four voices.  I should warn those new to the music of the period that the ‘variety of … techniques’ mentioned in the booklet would have been more apparent to the original fourteenth-century audience than to modern listeners.  For those prepared to go the extra mile, however, the reference in the notes to the music as ‘alluring’ and to the ‘coherent and meaningful cultural flow [of the music] in its original surroundings’ is very apt.

The two polytextual motets are the most difficult for the modern listener to decode but there’s a lucid explanation in Uri Smilansky’s admirable notes – written as much for the general reader as for the specialist.  In its own way the final 4-part motet Aucune gent / Qui plus aimme / Fiat voluntas tua is as intricately textured as Machaut’s most famous work, the Messe de Nostre Dame.

Like all the music on the recording these two complex motets receive performances of great clarity and beauty, assisted by a recording of comparably high quality.  A veritable array of experts is named in the booklet as having advised on the performances but even more to the point The Orlando Consort are past masters of interpreting Machaut for the modern listener.  Their 1999 DG Archiv recording of his chansons, aptly named Dreams in the Pleasure Garden, is well worth checking out on a Presto CD (4576182) or as a download (4776731), though there are one or two duplications of material on the new recording.

That DG recording was one of the first to perform Machaut’s music with voices alone.  It was triumphantly successful and they have gone on to bank on that success with their three Hyperion recordings.

Medieval poets imagined the song of the birds in Spring as the summit of perfection:

Ce fu au tens qu’arbre florissent…
Et cil oisel an lor latin
dolcement chantent au matin
et tote riens de joie anflame ... 

[‘It befell at the time when trees burgeon and the birds sing sweetly in their own language (lit. ‘Latin’) in the morning and all things are set alight by joy’ - Chrétien de Troyes: Perceval]

On every bow the bryddes herde I synge,
With voys of aungel in here armonye; ...
Of instruments of strenges in acord
Herde I so pleye a ravyshing swetnesse,
That God, that maker is of al and lord,
Ne herde nevere better, as I gesse;
[Chaucer: The Parlement of Foules, 190-200]

I doubt, however, if either Chaucer or Chrétien could have imagined anything better than the singing on this and the other Orlando Consort Machaut recordings.

I’ve mentioned the Messe de Nostre Dame and that’s still my recommended starting point for anyone getting to know Machaut’s music for the first time.  It’s generally reckoned to be the first Mass setting conceived as a connected whole.  I have yet to listen to a new recording performed by Graindelavoix on Glossa GCDP32110 but a first hearing left me less impressed than the very favourable review which I’ve read elsewhere.  Don’t take that as my last word, however: first hearings don’t always tell the whole story.

There’s also a Harmonia Mundi recording of the Mass directed by Paul Hillier which received high praise in some quarters but which we seem to have missed: HMU807469.  Bargain lovers are well served by Naxos (8.553833: Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly) and the Hilliard Ensemble on Hyperion are well worth considering: don’t be put off by the fact that it’s Archive Service or download only (CDA66358, with Lai de la Fonteinne, download currently £6.99, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).

The Harmonic Records CD of the Messe de Nostre Dame with Propers for the Assumption, which continues to do sterling service in my collection, is available in a Brilliant Classics reissue, with two other CDs of Machaut’s secular music from the same performers, the Gilles Binchois Ensemble and Dominique Vellard: from Presto or download for a mere £5.49 from 7digital.com or sainsburysentertainment.co.uk , albeit as a download in mp3 and without notes or texts. (Brilliant 94217 – review).

I can’t recommend any one of these three Hyperion recordings above the others: any one would make an excellent starting point for exploring Machaut’s secular music.  Whichever you start with, be prepared to want the others.

Brian Wilson

Details
Hé, dame de vaillance [3:32]
Cinc, un, trese [3:35]
Tous corps / De souspirant / Suspiro [2:47]
Helas, pour quoy se demente et complaint [3:54]
Esperance qui m’assuëre [4:54]
Pas de tor en thies pais [6:19]
Se mesdisans en acort [4:31]
Une vipere en cuer ma dame maint [6:20]
Tuit mi penser [3:29]
Plus dure que un dyamant [6:29]
Vos dous resgars, douce dame, m’a mort [5:12]
Se je me pleign je n’en puis mais [5:02]
Aucune gent / Qui plus aimme / Fiat voluntas tua [2:53]

 

 




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