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GRAMOPHONE ( 10/ 2019)
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Guillaume de Machaut: The single rose Product Image

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Reviewer: Edward Breen

David Fallows called them a ‘dream team’ (11/13), Fabrice Fitch described their fourth Machaut album in this series as ‘one bullseye after another’ (7/17) and it will come as little surprise that now I’m about to lace them with more compliments. I love a big recording project planned with superb scholarship, lively programming and consistent performances, and this Machaut series on Hyperion has it all.

This newest album builds around the imagery of the rose, and has a superb booklet note by Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel exploring the many connections with Le roman de la rose. The disc opens with the four-voice version of the famous ballade ‘De toutes flours’, previously recorded by The Orlando Consort 20 years ago (Archiv, 2/99), inviting a fascinating comparison. Whereas the earlier track prioritised both sonic beauty and a generous acoustic, this new recording displays more immediacy, in large part due to a greater focus on the texted tenor line and a softening of the ‘eu’ vowel in the vocalised parts. This is perhaps the most helpful summation of the present Orlando Consort sound: they bring a gently extrovert storytelling style to Machaut.

Speaking of extrovert, I particularly like the interplay of tenors in the three-voice motet ‘Bone pastor Guillerme/Bone pastor, qui pastores/Bone pastor’. It is unusual to have all three voices starting with the same words but The Orlando Consort again avoid taking this as a cue to smooth performance: keeping the tempo brisk and the words crisp, they make the most of the harmonic throb where Guillerme’s head is adorned with a mitre. Again, the results are arresting and immediate, particularly when compared to the smoother, ethereal approach of, say, Musica Nova (Aeon, A/11). Having said that, there are also moments of great intimacy, such as the rondeau ‘Merci vous pri’, an exercise in delicately imploring a lady of high birth.

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