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Guillaume de Machaut: Motets.
The Hilliard Ensemble.

ECM New Series ECM-1823 (B0001859-02, 62:36.

Review by Robert Reigle

Sadness constitutes one of the most prevalent themes amongst the world's musics. It comes as no surprise, then, that composer and poet Guillaume de Machaut's (c. 1300-1377) motets provide an exquisite demonstration of fourteenth century pathos. Fifteen of the eighteen pieces recorded here concern heartbreak, trouble, death, or suffering. The texts of the motets are of three quite different lengths: a tenor with just a single word or phrase, a motetus of several lines, and a much more extensive triplum. Thus the voices move at different speeds, singing the three layers of text simultaneously.

The performances live up to The Hilliard Ensemble's usual high standards. No instruments are used in this recording. The beautiful singing and complex polyphony might easily lead one to forget about the sighs and misfortunes of the poetry. Refreshingly, nonetheless, the producer placed the complete texts (in the original French or Latin, and English translation) at the front of the booklet, and the notes at the end.
The Hilliard Ensemble used a new edition of the motets by Nicky Losseff, who also wrote the four-page essay "Machaut and the Language of Pain." In a "Performer's Note," baritone Gordon Jones discusses performance practice questions, and his approach to singing a single word over the course of a three-minute piece.

Recommended; when can we have the complete (23) motets?

(Reprinted from our former incarnation as Jump Arts Journal.)



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