Although many college music history courses include a survey of the accomplishments of Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300-1377), the early music revival has largely bypassed him in performance. Any competent recording of his work is welcome, and this one, by Britain's famed Orlando Consort, is certainly more than competent. The group takes up the nine songs from Le Livre du Voir-Dit (roughly, "the true story"), a fascinating work including some 9,000 lines of poetry, only a small proportion of which are set. The story purports to describe a romance between an aging poet, presumably Machaut himself, and a teenage noblewoman who has become attracted to him because of his creativity. The tale has kept several generations of scholars guessing as to its veracity, and, like so much medieval literature, it contains stories within stories, codes, and other self-referential details that seem to suggest that poetry itself is the point of the whole thing. The rather madrigalian performances here are not ideal. The polyphonic songs in the set (several are monophonic poetic constructions of great complexity) are notated with a vocal line and textless accompanimental lines, and there is no reason to suppose that the vocalises used here represent an authentic performance practice, and they add an extraneous note to the music somehow. The four singers introduce the music clearly, however, and they do enough to draw the listener in to one of music history's unknown masterpieces.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim