The program includes some of Machaut's finest works, even if restricted to monophony. Although there is not as much variety as on some discs, there are several tracks of special interest, especially the featured lais.
The performance is quite sensitive, featuring scrupulous articulation and precise tuning. It is certainly what carries this disc, and a model approach to the music. The connection between drone accompaniment to monophony and some relatively simple 2-voice styles is also illustrative. The only thing that can be faulted is the lack of variety.
This disc was named my EM Record of the Year for 1997, and if anything has grown on me in the interim. The sensitivity and articulation of a large lyrical form in Le lay de plour is simply unequaled (although Bonnardot's later lay mortel is also good in a more general program), and the significance of this genre & style of presentation for Machaut's full output and those of related composers has yet to be fully grasped in some circles. Monophony or not, it is an absolutely central work, not just for Machaut, but for medieval secular music.
Since this program has appeared, much more attention has been devoted to Machaut's monophonic output and to the lai form in general. In some cases, some of the individual tracks on other recordings are more accomplished than the performances here, but this remains the best overall program devoted to Machaut's output in this form. In 1997, I equivocated a bit on naming this recording a Record of the Year, mainly due to the limited vertical appeal, but subsequent developments have proven it to be one of my best choices.
To medieval secular listTodd M. McComb