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GRAMOPHONE (01/2021)
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Reviewer: Edward Breen

The latest album in The Orlando Consort’s Machaut project features works from his ‘Prologue’, a fictional autobiography beginning his complete works manuscript. The selection features several famous works well known from previous recordings, and illustrates – in the words of editors Anne Stone and Jacques Boogaart – ‘the whole spectrum of Machaut’s poetic and musical art’. As ever, the performing editions used here are from the forthcoming Complete Works of Guillaume de Machaut and just this autumn the American Musicological Society awarded its prestigious Noah Greenberg Award to this Machaut project.

The real headline performance on this album is the lai En demantant et lamentant (‘With troubled mind and lamentation’), a long, lingering lament for ‘The Lion of Nobility’, thought to be King John II of France. One of only two polyphonic lais by Machaut, it is here performed TTB, with voices taking the texted part in turn as the others vocalise. The result is rich, mesmeric and deeply moving, as is R Barton Palmer’s translation.

The famous rondeau Ma fin est mon commencement (‘My end is my beginning’) is especially pleasing in this thoughtful, clear performance. The Orlando Consort bear Machaut’s virtuoso writing lightly and keep the text clearly in the foreground. I particularly appreciate the booklet-note reference to Revelation 22:13, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, in discussing this work. Also of note is the solo-voice ballade Dame, se vous m’estes lonteinne (‘Lady, if you are distant from me’), with its familiar theme of unobtainable longing offering a moving moment of repose, beautifully sung by Matthew Venner, whose mellow countertenor tone infuses this album with warmth. Another wonderful and fascinating instalment in this impressive series.

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