Editor’s Choice: Vocal & Choral, July 2015

★★★★☆

Like the greatest innovators, poet and composer Guillaume Machaut (c. 1300-1377) was thoroughly versed in the language of past masters. One of the chief representatives of the medieval Ars nova and the latter-day trouvères, and renowned in his day and beyond, Machaut wove tales of courtly love, whose roots are in antiquity, with new-spun threads of startling melodic, rhythmic and harmonic originality.

Decades of recordings by the Clemencic Consort, the Deller Consort and the like have in recent times immeasurably enhanced a contemporary reputation which still rests chiefly on one work, the brilliant and innovative Messe de Nostre Dame. Formed in 1988, the one-to-a-part male Orlando Consort stands with the Hilliard Ensemble in making a unique contribution to the on-going conversation with Machaut’s timeless music, of which this second volume in their complete edition for Hyperion.

Where their first volume focused on the nine songs from Machaut’s masterpiece Le Voir Dit, The Dart of Love contains representatives from four genres favoured by Machaut: the ballade, the rondeau, the virelai and the motet. Availing themselves of the new performing edition The Complete Works of Guillaume de Machaut, countertenor Matthew Venner, tenors Mark Dobell and Angus Smith and baritone Donald Greig perform these works with matchless purity of tone, clarity of diction and a supple expressiveness apposite to the courtly surface and erotic undertones of the poetry. 

“Orlando Consort perform these works with matchless purity of tone and clarity of diction”

This is as evident in works where three different texts are sung simultaneously – the motet Quant en moy/Amour et biauté parfaite/Amara valde or the canonic ballade Sans cuer, m’en vois/Amis dolens/Dame, par vous – as it is in a rondeau like the ravishingly melismatic Rose, lis, printemps, verdure and the disarmingly simple virelai for solo voice, Ay me, dame de valour.

Borrowings and influences are fascinatingly explored in such works as the two-voice ballade Pour ce que tous mes chans fais, which relies on material from the opening of a chace possibly written by Denis Le Grant (included on the recording for comparison). But it is perhaps the way in which Orlando Consort shades less ambiguously erotic works such as S’Amours ne fait par sa grace adoucir, in which the lover languishes painfully “until death comes” before his immovable beloved, with a plaintive stoicism, that will stay longest in the listener’s memory.

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