This is a truly marvellous and awesome mult-cd set. I say “multi-cd” for a good reason. There are three cds of music in the set, but there is a fourth cd, which holds the complete sung texts with English, German, French and Spanish translations. All the works are by Guillaume de Machaut, who was born c. 1300 and died in 1377. He was a French poet and composer, who seems to have lived a varied and active life. He was well educated, he served the King of Bohemia and travelled around Europe on his military campaigns, he almost died from the Black Death; his works were compiled on richly-illuminated manuscripts in clear evidence of his importance, and dedicated and presented to the nobility of France. Machaut was a man famous in his time, and his music and name deserves to be remembered today.
Much of Machaut’s work was textual poetry, but he also wrote many ballades, roundeaux, virelais and other instrumental works. His most famous work perhaps is his Messe de Notre Dame, which is the earliest known complete setting of the Ordinary of the Mass attributable to a single composer. This remarkable work makes up the whole of the first cd, and performers on this cd include Andreas Scholl. This is a remarkable work, and this cd offers a wonderful interpretation of the work; the sound is magical, the voices lyrical, the work offers spirituality and beauty combined. It is thought that Machaut composed this some time around 1360, possibly written as part of Machaut’s thoughts on his own eventual mortality, and which was to be sung in memory of himself and his brother every Saturday in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Reims, where both were also canons.
The second and third cd are devoted to Machaut’s secular works. The second cd showcases the work Le vray remede d’amour. This is a selection of Machaut’s poetical and musical works, out of which the performers, Ensemble Gilles Binchois have reconstructed a story of love and desire. There are instrumental, sung and a few spoken pieces making up the 21 tracks on the cd (68 minutes). The old French spoken pieces are not at all intrusive nor discordant among the songs, and they are beautifully and passionately spoken by Jean-Paul Racodon, a French actor. These parts are not long, and while I sadly have no idea of what the words mean, their beauty and intensity is always clear.
The third cd has pieces from Machaut’s Le Jugement du Roi de Navarre – again, this comprises pieces (20 tracks, 65 minutes) of spoken, instrumental and vocal pieces. The original work was divided into two parts, the first of which depicts episodes from the Black Death and the Hundred Years War, and the second part develops a courtly scene proposed by the King of Navarre. Ensemble Gilles Binchois have in this cd, as on the second cd, put together some of the poems with some of the musical works to provide a coherent context to the story.
Clearly much of Machaut’s output needs to be empathetically and intelligently interpreted in order to provide the best rendition on a cd as a performance to a modern audience. Ensemble Gilles Binchois have succeeded admirably in presenting Machaut in all his guises, and on 3 cds of the most wonderful medieval music and lyrics, and words we are ever likely to hear. If you close your eyes, you can find yourself transported back to medieval France. Wholeheartedly recommended.
This three disc boxed set is a reissue of three previous individual recordings by Ensemble Binchois of Guillaume de Machaut's compositions.
The first disc is of the Messe de Notre Dame, one of the treasures of world music. This is the most stunning, enrapturing rendition I have heard so far (and I think I have eight different recordings of the mass at the last count) - the countertenor line in the polyphonic Ordinaries is sung by the great Andreas Scholl, whose presence lifts this into the transcendental.
The second and third discs contain selections of Machaut's secular chansons interspersed with pieces of spoken poetry - Machaut was an accomplished poet as well as a composer, and he heavily influenced his contemporary Chaucer. Unless you can speak medieval French you will probably not gain a lot from these poems to be honest. Mind you, at this bargain price it's worth it just for the mass on the first disc alone.
Three discs in double jewel case with a brief booklet; there is a fourth CD-ROM containing the Latin/old French sung texts for all the pieces with English, German, French & Spanish translations, as separate PDF documents.
This is a stunning three CD set. Machaut was not only the greatest French poet of the 14th century but also an exceptional composer. The "Messe De Nostre Dame" is an exceptional work, a landmark in European composition - the haunting sound of medieval music allied to subtle polyphony and dissonance make compelling listening. The other two CDs are devoted to Machaut's secular works - poetry, instrumental pieces, beautiful vocal pieces treating subjects as diverse as courtly love, war and the Black Death. The programme is "eruditely constructed" and the performance by the Ensemble Gilles Binchois is outstanding. The singing and instrumental pieces are performed superbly and the excellent reading of the poems by Jean-Paul Racodon (you don't need to master medieval French to be moved by the musicality and passion of the texts) complements the music perfectly and illustrates the full scope of the talent of this 14th century genius, For me this box-set is both a pleasure and an education.