Machaut, Sovereign Beauty

Sovereign Beauty
The Orlando Consort
Hyperion CDA68134

Some music is so old it sounds new. Perhaps the songs of that great exponent of the medieval Ars Nova, poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377), falls into that category. More likely, however, it’s because Machaut was a genius that his music sounds as fresh and novel as it must have to its first listeners. This is the fourth volume in UK vocal ensemble The Orlando Consort’s survey of Machaut’s songs, using a new performing edition (The Complete Works of Guillaume de Machaut) published by the University of Michigan Press. The first volume focused on the nine songs from Machaut’s masterpiece Le Voir Dit; the second, The Dart of Love, showcased some of the composer’s favoured genres; the third, A Burning Heart, zeroed in on Machaut’s take on courtly love.

In Sovereign Beauty, countertenor Matthew Venner, tenors Mark Dobell and Angus Smith, and baritone Donald Greig return to some of Mauchaut’s earlier works, in which he was experimenting with the ballade, rondeau, virelai, lay and motet – later examples of which featured in The Dart of Love.

All, without exception, are possessed of a spare, haunting beauty, from works for solo voice such as the virelai Foy porter to the ballade for four voices, Se quanque Amours. The poetry embraces tales of secular and spiritual longing through the conventions of courtly love, Christian faith and classical mythology. As one would expect, the singing is as clear and focused as it is passionate and expressive.