Orlando Consort. Lakeside, Nottingham. 23February 2023. 4****. William Ruff


The Orlando Consort

Lakeside, Nottingham

February 23 2023


Review: William Ruff


Vocal gems from the Orlando Consort’s farewell tour

When it comes to the great ocean that is classical music most of us fish near the surface.  Luckily there are ensembles who dare to venture much deeper and explore regions which would otherwise remain unknown.

One of the most distinguished of these groups is The Orlando Consort, their speciality being music of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, a period spanning nearly 500 years but one which few of us would choose as our Mastermind topic.  We could all pick out Henry VIII in an identity parade – but what about the other seven Henrys?  This helps to make any Orlando Consort concert an adventure, travelling to the past, that other country where they do things differently.  And they’ve been organising these adventures for the past 35 years, this Lakeside event being part of their farewell tour.

Their programme started with some of the earliest examples of polyphony: church music in praise of Mary and Christ from the 11th and 12th centuries composed by unfamiliar names such as Perotin, Aquitaine and the intriguingly styled ‘Winchester Troper’ and all exploring ways in which voices can join together in harmony, as opposed to the ancient art of plainsong chant.

The Orlandos must be the world’s greatest champions of the music of Guillaume de Machaut, so it wasn’t surprising to see two of his songs on the menu: Plourés, dames (Weep, ladies) and Rose, lis, printemps, verdure (Rose, lily, spring, greenery).  Machaut’s art reflects his eventful life.  As a young man he served Jean, King of Bohemia and Duke of Luxembourg.  Just before the king was killed at the battle of Crécy in 1346, the composer became a canon at the Cathedral of Reims, where he spent the rest of his days.  He was certainly a master of vocal technique, as the Orlando Consort demonstrated in performances which allowed the listener to appreciate the interaction between one voice and another in the clearest way.

The four singers made a point in their introductions that their role over the past 35 years has been as vocal chamber musicians, able to express their individuality whilst combining to produce an artistic whole much greater than the sum of its parts.  Over the years they have trodden new ground – or at least ground not trodden for many centuries.  And their success has taken them around the world: to North and South America and, especially, the Europe from whose soil their repertoire originally grew.  This explains the musical visits this concert made to Italy, Spain and the Low Countries and to composers such as Loyset Compère and Nicolas Gombert. 

It’s perhaps not unreasonable to wonder if the Orlando Consort has a favourite amongst the 14 composers featured in this celebratory programme.  The answer is yes: Josquin des Prez, perhaps unsurprising, as he’s generally reckoned to be the greatest composer of the period.  They sang two of his motets: In te, Domine, speravi (In thee, O Lord, did I hope) and O bone et dulcis (O good and sweet), both performances revealing the works’ textures with crystal clarity.

As well as the 17 pieces listed on the programme the Consort provided an encore in the form of the delightfully quirky In seculum, a few seconds of vocal agility in hocket (or ‘hiccup’) style.  The audience loved it and it was a fitting way to end a musical safari to distant times led by a team of ultimate experts.  They will be missed.

The Orlando Consort

Matthew Venner: countertenor

Mark Dobell: tenor

Angus Smith: tenor

Donald Greig: baritone

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