COMPÉRE Magnificat, motets & chansons
For their second recording of the music of Loÿset Compère (their first was over twenty years ago – Metronome, 6/94), The Orlando Consort take the brave step of focusing almost exclusively on his songs. Brave, because 15th-century songs, with their use of wholesale repetition and uniformity of texture, require more patience of the uninitiated listener than much sacred music of the period, such that today’s ensembles often hesitate to tackle them. This may be especially true of Compère, whose songs can last around 10 minutes in performance. They are also very exposing of a singer’s technique: there really is nowhere to hide.
So much for the risks; now the rewards. Patience yields an appreciation of these pieces’ near-miraculous formal balance and strength of melodic invention, both essential for the music to sustain the repetitions just mentioned. Vous me faites mourir d’envie and Dictes moy toutes voz pensées are exemplary in these regards: they embody a mellifluous high style of chanson (reminiscent of Busnois at his most lyrical), which sees The Orlandos at their best. A contrasting tone is set in Une jeune fillette and Un franc archier, respectively racy and bumptious. These show Compère anticipating the more trenchant style in four voices that was to dominate the early 16th century. One wonders whether The Orlandos could have made greater play of the satire here, but this would arguably have detracted from Compère’s careful handling of sonority, which is wonderfully captured. The only real misjudgement concerns the singing of the text in the lower voice of Tant ay d’ennuy, which seems to me distracting and might better have been vocalised. The opening Magnificat is a little tentative in places and sounds recessed within the acoustic but the movingly simple O bone Jesu is very nicely done, whether or not Compère actually composed it. In any case, this project is a confident affirmation that all-vocal recordings of 15th-century songs are well worth making.