Machaut Edition

The Orlando Consort Machaut Edition
Orlando Consort
v. 1 - Hyperion 67727
v. 2 - Hyperion 68008
v. 3 - Hyperion 68103
v. 4 - Hyperion 68134
v. 5 - Hyperion 68195
v. 6 - Hyperion 68206
v. 7 - Hyperion 68277
v. 8 - Hyperion 68318
v. 9 - Hyperion 68399
v. 10 - Hyperion 68417 ....

This is a motley collection of comments at this point, as modified variously with the various releases in this series. The next volume is supposed to be the final one though, so at that point, I should rewrite this discussion from scratch.... In the meantime:

With the second volume, Hyperion & the Orlando Consort look to be serious about recording a substantial Machaut edition. This is very welcome, even if I don't share an exclusive enthusiasm for all-vocal interpretations. Anyway....

The significance, and simply the interest & enjoyment, of this music is not paralleled by many other outputs (as something of an understatement). This repertory is a pillar of Western music, and recording it completely seems long overdue.

The following was written for Songs from Le voir dit (volume 1) and should perhaps be updated in light of the inclusion of The Dart of Love (volume 2) in this file:

This is a quality all-vocal performance of some of Machaut's finest music, from his collection Le voir dit written in the 1360s.

The interpretation is fairly typical of the English style, with voices used for all parts and no doubling or accompaniment. (It does use a new Machaut Edition that is pending.) The Orlando Consort have recorded a number of Machaut songs over the years, including a full album back in 1997, so their experience is evident, although the quartet has changed somewhat.

As a belated update concerning volume 2 more specifically:

Here, there is more presence to the recording. The sound is not as blunted as on volume 1, so it's easier to enjoy without straining to hear. Otherwise, the approach is basically the same, but it's nice to hear things going in a positive direction. Although volume 1 has more of a unified program (from a single story by Machaut), I might find the volume 2 program to be more compelling overall. It's a good, unthemed program, featuring a variety of forms.

Now that there is a volume 3, I don't find myself having too much to add, although again the recording quality does seem better. (And considering how hazy & over-resonant the Orlando's Machaut album on Archiv was, it really makes me wonder how hard it can be to record four voices. What is the challenge?) I already felt like volume 2 validated the series intent, but if anything, it's more clear here. It's a very enjoyable album on its own, with a style that continues to enrich itself via familiarity & details. It will be exciting to have Machaut's complete works recorded after all these years.

(Well, I thought the series implied completeness, but I guess not. "Most" pieces, maybe nearly all....)

As for later albums, I have even less to add, although I would say both that the interpretations do continue to develop & improve, and that the sound quality has become a strength. Regarding the sixth volume, I should note Le lay de confort (an extended poetic work written in 3-voice canon) — perhaps Machaut's most extensive masterpiece after the Mass.

And volume 8 continues to be an appealing program overall, including in their handling of the three-voice lai. While volume 9 returns to perhaps the best-known sequence in Machaut's oeuvre.... I do wonder, though, how the last two programs will go at this point, in terms of maintaining balanced interest....

It does seem clear at this point that there's also no way this project is going to be complete: Several of the lais look like they won't be included, maybe a few of the polyphonic songs... although perhaps they have specific reasons for those choices. I guess we'll see.

To medieval secular list.

Todd M. McComb
Updated: 10 July 2023