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GRAMOPHONE (02/1997)
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Harmonia Mundi
HMG 501590

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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch


... Peres Machaut is profoundly weird. It would exceed the scope of this review to detail its many eccentricities, but the main one must be the vocal colour adopted by Peres's singers. In his last few recordings, he has worked with traditional Corsican singers whose highly distinctive timbre and approach to ornamentation he has taken as the basis for his explorations. How far the ensembles have evolved as a result can be gauged by listening to their recording of the Tournai Mass, done some six years ago. There the singers (led by those magical Catalans Josep Benet and Josep Cabre) were classically trained, and though their sound was distinctive enough, it could hardly be described as bizarre. In this particular case, I suspect, a few listeners may have to overcome a powerful urge to switch off pretty early on.


Which would be a great shame. Notwithstanding the obvious misgivings one might have (approach to musica ficta, to ornamentation, to plainsong intonation, and problems of ensemble), Peres's reading makes a point that is so often conveniently ignored: we have no idea what Machaut's singers actually sounded like, or how they produced the sound in their throats. Peter Phillips once made that point, envisaging the possibility that we might find the 'authentic ' sound unbearable. As I have got used (slowly) to Organum's sound, I have been reminded how far Machaut's world is from our own. This recording questions a fundamental and untestable assumption about medieval polyphony. As such, it is an intriguing alternative to other all-vocal performances, even if there are too many other imponderables to warrant an unconditional recommendation.

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