Guillaume de Machaut
Secular Songs
The Orlando Consort [Matthew Venner (countertenor), Mark Dobell & Angus Smith (tenors) and Donald Greig (baritone)]

Recorded 17-19 July 2018 at All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London
CD No: HYPERION CDA68277
Duration: 57 minutes
Reviewed: September 2019

Part of The Orlando Consort’s projected twelve-disc exploration for Hyperion of the composer-poet Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377), this collection draws on a popular example of medieval French literature, Le Roman de la Rose (Romance of the Rose), fourteen songs on the theme of love viewed through the symbolism of the rose. Whether devotional, jealous or unrequited, love is variously expressed through formal verse with music of melodic expression, rhythmic complexity and harmonic distinction.

The Orlando Consort is steeped in Machaut’s intricate polyphony (here using a new performing edition published by the University of Michigan) and respond to his inexhaustible invention with commitment. Close miking brings an immediacy of tone that is vocally vivid but the absence of any ambience results in something blunt and forthright, previous warmth of tone (2007, Deutsche Grammophon) traded for greater definition – I would have welcomed more colour – and some concessions to intonation, of which there are slippages.

That said, a somewhat rustic tone works well in places, not least where pride and envy are strikingly conveyed – with unexpected harmonies, melodic leaps and rhythmic fissures that command attention. Conjunct writing and more-intimate expression resides elsewhere, such as love’s happiness through adversity, and not forgetting despair, countered by a folk-like style, and if the complexity of multiple texts makes demands on the ear there’s no doubting Machaut’s skill in bringing together overlaid words to capture love’s vagaries.

The booklet embraces texts, translations and a scholarly essay.

 

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