DUFAY Lament for Constantinople & other songs
This isn’t the first recording of Dufay’s chansons to appear since the Medieval Ensemble of London’s complete survey nearly 40 years ago (L’Oiseau-Lyre, 12/81), but it’s the most rounded and satisfying view of him to be had from a single anthology (in that Cantica Symphonia’s 2006 Glossa survey focused on the early songs). I was happy to be reacquainted with a few personal favourites (the early ballade Mon chier amy, the late virelai Malheureux cueur and rondeau Vostre bruit and the cheeky drinking-song Puisque vous estez campieur), but having listened several times through I’m struck by several that had not quite done so before, which now speak very eloquently: Pouray je avoir, Belle, que vous ay je mesfait? and the understatedly perfect Par le regard. Like so many of the individual songs, the recital grows in stature with repeated listening.
The reason is that the Orlandos are so experienced in this repertory that, nearly always, the choice of tempo and tone is spot-on (and tempo is perhaps the most important decision, given that absolute tempos are never indicated), which maximises the music’s communicative potential and more than compensates for the occasional vocal blemish (that this is fiendishly exposed singing cannot be overstated). The programme takes a while to get going: the choice of O tres piteulx as an opener is curiously muted and downbeat, and thereafter En triumphant de Cruel Dueil, which seems to me a touch slow given the voices involved. I imagine some may find the Orlandos’ overall approach corseted and overly cautious, as though hearing Dufay through the prism of their recent Machaut recordings. I can understand this, but in singing of such insight there is so much to learn. And as to the music – did I mention it earlier? – Dufay is simply astonishing.