Beyond Compère!

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Program: #15-45   Air Date: Nov 02, 2015

Don Greig of the Orlando Consort guides us through the group’s latest, dedicated to the sadly-neglected contemporary of Josquin, Loyset Compère.

NOTE: All of the music on this program is from the recording Loyset Compère featuring The Orlando Consort and our guest Donald Greig. It is a Hyperion CD and is number CDA68069

From the Ensemble:

Fabrice Fitch, writing in The Gramophone, has given a glowing review to our new disk of music by Loyset Compère. The selection of music includes a Magnificat, a motet and several chansons, and it is the latter that Fitch commends in particular, particularly for our braveness in recording secular music that doesn't always capture the modern imagination. "Patience yields an appreciation of these pieces’ near-miraculous formal balance and strength of melodic invention" he writes, "which sees The Orlandos at their best." He concludes by asserting that "this project is a confident affirmation that all-vocal recordings of 15th-century songs are well worth making." And so say all of us.

On August 1st on BBC Radio 3's CD Review, Andrew McGregor was no less fulsome in his praise: "The singing of the Orlando Consort is impeccably tuned and placed, timelessly appealing in this well-balanced Hyperion recording." He went on to say that "Loyset Compère is a name that deserves more recognition; I suspect an album like this will do his cause no harm at all." You can hear the review here, along with a section from one of the motet-chansons, Tant ay d'ennuy.

Another positive review, this time in the Financial Times: "Twenty years ago The Orlando Consort made an influential recording of his music and here they are again, offering a new selection of Compère’s mostly short vocal pieces informed by recent scholarship. The four, bright-voiced, male singers are quick to draw on the contrasts in chansons like the folksy “Ung franc archier” and seductive “Vous me faites morir d’envie”.

From MusicWeb International (Brian Wilson): All but one of the works here, including the opening Magnificat, are receiving their only recording in the current catalogue. Scan the other currently available recordings and the Gramophone reviews database or our own search engines and you won’t find that there are or have been too many other recordings of Compère's music. Of these one of the most significant also came from the Orlando Consort, back in 1994, on Metronome METCD1002. That earlier recording was billed as Christmas Music, perhaps to encourage purchasers – though it contains the Christmas Mass Hodie nobis de virgine, that’s the only concrete link with the season.

On other recordings Compère makes a walk-on entrance, as on budget-price Hyperion Helios CDH55423 – DL News 2013/14 – where his Omnium bonorum plena features on a programme centred on Dufay’s Missa Puisque je vis. That Hyperion recording is recommendable not least for Compère’s contribution, as also is a Tallis Scholars CD where his Dictes moy toutes voz pensées accompanies music by another underrated composer, Jean Mouton, including his Mass based on that tune (Gimell CDGIM047 – review, DL Roundup January 2010 and DL Roundup 2012/19).

If for no other reason, then, this latest offering from the Orlando Consort is very worthwhile for the gaps which it fills in the catalogue, but it’s much more than that.

The four-part Magnificat, probably composed during Compère’s time in Milan, is now thought to date from well before the time of Josquin and Obrecht, whose dates have been recalculated, so it’s no longer necessary to regard this as the work of a lesser contemporary but rather as a precursor of Josquin’s style. Hyperion are even a little on the conservative side in listing Compère’s birth: other sources give it as c.1440.

It’s an understated rather than a florid setting, the Virgin Mary as a quiet handmaid of the Lord rather than overflowing with emotion, and it’s to the credit of the Orlando singers that they don’t try to make it more ‘impressive’. There’s medieval music a-plenty for late night de-stressing and this Magnificat joins the list.

The second work is a dual-texted chanson and motet: the upper voices sing a lament on the theme of the fickleness of Fortune while the bassus sings the words ‘O all ye that pass by, look and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow’, from the Lamentations of Jeremiah and used in the Improperia or Reproaches on Good Friday. A not uncommon feature of medieval music – some pieces even have three texts – it may be perplexing for modern listeners but works particularly well on this occasion, no small thanks again to the quality of the singing.

There’s a recording of Compère’s Passiontide music from Odehecaton and Paolo da Col, on a Cantus recording: his setting of the Officium de Cruce is coupled with music by Josquin, Obrecht and Weerbecke – CD or download from Amazon UK; sample/stream from Qobuz. Like the Orlando Consort’s Magnificat and O vos omnes, the performance is rather cool, but that’s preferable to making the music sound like Gesualdo long before his time.

Most of the rest of the programme consists of Compère’s vernacular chansons. Some of these, too, are pensive in nature, as in Dictes moy toutes voz pensées (track 3). The Consort are equally at home here and in the livelier chansons, as on the next track in Une plaisant fillette ung matin se leva – the old story of a girl got in trouble by a man at arms. In these pieces they show us an appropriately forthright manner.

The final piece, O bone Jesu, was recorded long ago on a classic album from David Munrow and his Early Music Consort of London, The Art of the Netherlands. (Erato/Virgin 6284972, 2 CDs, budget-price). Though made in the comparative infancy of the rediscovery of the music of the period, that remains an essential recording and I wouldn’t wish to be without it or most of the other recordings from that group. The Orlando Consort give the motet a little more time to breathe, thereby making it less immediate in appeal but more reflective and ending the programme in the quiet manner in which they began with the Magnificat.

The booklet is well up to Hyperion’s high standards though the translation sometimes bowdlerises the original: cul in Une plaisante fillette, for example, I think refers to a more intimate part of the anatomy than the backside. I suspect, too, that there’s an indelicate reference in the refrain of this chanson, entre deuz huis, literally between two doors, as translated in the booklet. Huis is an archaic word for door, as in the expression still current, huis clos, in private, but there may be more to it here.

Not, perhaps, the ideal introduction for those wishing to become interested in the music of this period, then – for that you might be better to turn to one of the many recordings which Gothic Voices made for Hyperion, now reissued on their budget Helios label – but well worthwhile for lovers of Josquin who want to know what went immediately before.

Loyset COMPÈRE (c.1445–1518)
Magnificat, Motets and Chansons
Magnificat primi toni [12:49]
Tant ay d’ennuy / O vos omnes [8:17]
Dictes moy toutes voz pensées [4:35]
Une plaisant fillette ung matin se leva [2:43]
Vous me faites morir d’envie [6:17]
Ung franc archier [7:08]
Ne doibt on prendre quant on donne [5:03]
Au travail suis sans espoir de confort [6:24]
Mes pensées ne me lessent une heure [11:41]
O bone Jesu (attributed to Compère) [3:23]

Composer Info

Loyset COMPÈRE (c.1445–1518)

CD Info

CDA68069, METCD1002, CDH55423, CDGIM047.