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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch
The centrepiece of this disc is Le lay de confort, a setting of the longest of the poetic forms available to Machaut. Each of its 12 sections is a three-voice canon at the unison, a compositional challenge by anyone’s standards. The use of canon may well have been suggested by the text, a meditation on the perils of trusting to Fortune, whose wheel was a perennial metaphor for the mutability of the human condition; but the musical intricacies thus generated – including changes of time signature, unexpected cross-rhythms and syncopations – make this perhaps more immediately accessible to today’s listener than some of Machaut’s other works in the form. The Orlandos show remarkable staying power here, given the decision throughout to project the music and text ‘loud and clear’, as Machaut might have put it.
As this recital progresses one is struck yet again with the sheer consistency of Machaut’s art. Despite recognisable phrases recurring from work to work, each piece has something to say. The Orlandos hit their stride in this series some time ago, and collectively they gel wonderfully, though the solo virelais fare less well this time around. An occasional feature has been to offer slightly off-centre insights into Machaut’s style. Here, the three-voice rondeau De Fortune, which opens the recital, is revisited at the end with a fourth voice that was probably added later by another composer. Only the one stanza of the later version is sung, which seems a shame given that the impact of the fourth voice would be better appreciated with the repetitions the form entails. It transforms the original’s lucid design into an almost baroque jungle of counterpoint: exhilarating.
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