Compère: Magnificat, Motets and Chansons

Compère: Magnificat, Motets and Chansons
Orlando Consort
Hyperion CDA68069. 68’22

Loyset Compère is not as well-known as he deserves to be, and this recording could be the means by which his (recently re-assessed) place in musical history is acknowledged. The key to the re-assessment is the slightly embarrassing realisation that the Josquin that musicologists assumed to have been born in 1440 was not, in fact, Josquin des Prez, but another Josquin altogether. That makes Josquin des Prez around 10 years younger than thought. Similar birth date realignment concerning Obrecht and Agricola also make them younger than first thought. As David Fallows explains in his comprehensive programme notes, this leaves Loyset Compère as one of the earliest composers in the imitative style, now known to be later developed, rather than instigated, by Josquin and others.

The opening Magnificat Primi Toni is key to this chronology, as it is now thought to have been composed in Milan sometime between 1474 and 1477, some 15 years before Josquin’s famed examples. That in itself makes the Orlando Consort’s return to Compère (after a 20 years recording gap) fully justified. Apart from the concluding O bone Jesu, which may not be by Compère, the rest of the programme is made up of songs, their different styles representing stages in the development of the late 15th century genre. There are four potential composers for O bone Jesu, but the vagaries of CD programme would mean that the piece would probably never get recorded if it remained as ‘Anonymous’, so tagging it onto this Compère disc is worthwhile. It makes a fine little coda to the CD.

Key to the Orlando Consort’s success is the keen vocal blend between all four voices, aided by the wonderfully pure and clean tone of countertenor Matthew Venner, whose voice is always fully integrated with, rather than sitting on top of, the voices of his colleagues. The lower voices display various degrees of vocal inflexion, but never to the extent to separate any one vocal line out. They take all the song texts seriously, avoiding the temptation to ham up the racier texts in, for example, Une plaisant fillette, with its enigmatic line about a future girl-child who will “play with her arse between two doors”.  The first and last piece have been given a slightly more distant focus than the other, secular, songs, presumably to reflect their presumed manner of performance.

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