Guillaume de Machaut was one of the most influential composers of the 14th century, and his secular love songs were as significant as his sacred masterpiece, the Messe de Nostre Dame. The Orlando Consort began its survey of Machaut's music with the 2013 album, Songs from Le Voir Dit, which was followed by The Dart of Love in 2015, and A Burning Heart in 2016, thus making Sovereign Beauty, their 2017 release on Hyperion, the fourth installment in this impressive series.
Medieval music is not my customary listening or studying turf, and I can't claim any cognoscento's insight. I'm a pure layman here, I don't know how "authentic" or musicologically satisfying those 1977 readings by Ensemble Guillaume de Machaut are, or how they compare interpretively with others. As for authenticity, other than giving the names of the instruments used, the credits and liner notes provide no information whatsoever about them. For instance, the instrument called "cromorne" is listed, but according to Wikipedia the cromorne was a 16th and 17th century instrument of the oboe family, which makes it two or three centuries too late for Machaut.
Much-awaited has been the new recording of the Machaut Messe de Nostre Dame from Bjorn Schmelzer and Graindelavoix, one of Glossas long- standing artistic family members. Following on from the trio of discs devoted to music in the spirit of the medieval master draughtsman Villard de Honnecourt the Antwerp-based ensemble currently in residence at the Fondation Royaumont in France has now turned to the first-known composer of an integral mass cycle: Guillaume de Machaut, who was a canon at Reims Cathedral in the fourteenth century.
Pianist Guillaume de Chassy insists that Silences is inspired by the example of clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre's late-1950s trio recordings. To be sure, like those records, this album is marked by intimacy and introspection, a strong clarinet sound and no drummer. But Silences, recorded at a French abbey, doesn't sound much like Giuffre's records—nor indeed, like much of jazz, at first blush. It's not at first clear just what this piano-clarinet-bass formation is up to. The helpfully titled "Birth of a Trio" provides clues. It shows just how much this music shares with jazz—improvisation, first of all; and empathy, the musicians listening closely to each other, as for example when de Chassy's piano sidles up to Thomas Savy's soaring clarinet.
Faraway So Close is a trio offering from pianist Guillaume de Chassy, whose previous recording, Piano Solo (Bee Jazz, 2007), was completely engrossing in its trenchant beauty. This album projects the same depth, sincerity and directness of communication as the former one, but in a trio setting. Music is mysterious in the manner in which its affects are felt. The piano, with its mechanical action, adds a further layer to the puzzle, as Jon Balke made clear on Book of Velocities (ECM, 2008). De Chassy's keyboard touch is remarkable for its liquid clarity and supports his seeming endless supply of ideas, both melodic and harmonic.
This is the second recording of Machaut's music by the all-male Orlando Consort (countertenor on top), and their way with Machaut is excellent. They have a nice, light tone in the secular pieces that contrasts with the more severe Gothic Voices, and they convey the weighty, ceremonial quality of the big motets. Machaut goes far enough back that nobody can be sure of how it sounded (and the graphics for this all-vocal album show a painting including instruments), but if you like the unaccompanied approach, this will do as well as anything for putting the basic sound of Machaut in your head. And "basic," in the best way, describes this album in another respect as well: the booklet notes by Anne Stone (given in English and French) give the most complete, and more importantly most enthusiastic, introduction one could ask for in a few pages to Machaut's stylistic world.
"…Countertenors David James and David Gould shape Machaut's almost Faulknerian top-voice syntax into affecting emotional statements, and even listeners new to medieval music will become ensnared in the poet's quest for the slightest glance of regard from his unattainable Lady. (…) Still, it's been a while since a major disc of Machaut motets was released (this disc contains 18 pieces, a few of them sacred), and if the Hilliard Ensemble doesn't close the book on this music, they nevertheless interpret it beautifully for our times." ~allmusicguide
Tre Fontane, an ensemble of young performing musicians from Southern France, land of the troubadours, whose music they have explored extensively, have devoted the present recording to the major French Ars Nova composer Guillaume de Machaut, and leading Italian composers of the trecento, using the Codex Faenza as a central reference. Most of the time they remain fairly close to the Faenza variations on the vocal originals, with occasional extemporization.