Machaut, Ockeghem, Hildegard Of Bingen

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Hildegard Of Bingen,Machaut,Ockeghem
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Messe de Nostre Dame,Requiem,Laudes de sainte Ursule
PERFORMER: Ensemble Organum/Marcel Pérès
CATALOGUE NO: HMX 290891-93 Reissue (1992-6)
This collective reissue brings together three exceptionally interesting discs. They are all directed by Marcel Pérès whose immersion in the medieval period is well known (he is rumoured to live by candlelight!), and whose unpretty view of the ‘Dark Ages’often produces hauntingly atmospheric, though sometimes musically disturbing, performances.

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Selections from his 1993 recording of Ockeghem’s Requiem have already appeared in Harmonia Mundi’s 1995 anthology, ‘Les tres riches heures du moyen age’. But here we get the complete work in its liturgical setting. Pérès’s singers produce a characteristically warm and sonorous effect, though slightly stolid. A rival recording by Edward Wickham and The Clerks’ Group (ASV) does not include the surrounding liturgy, but the textures and rhythms are crisper (especially in the complex Offertorium) as is the sense of musical direction – but perhaps these are modern virtues. When I first reviewed Pérès’s performance of Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame (March 1997) I was rather resistant to the caterwauling ornamentation added to parts of this Mass, but the performance has grown on me, and I am now inclined to believe that Pérès has discovered an emotional truth about this music, if not an historical one. Similarly, his organisation of pieces by Hildegard into a church service for St Ursula (first reviewed September 1997) manages to conjure out of the music a ceremony of resonating intensity. We need questing performers like Marcel Pérès to remind us that medieval people were not just mystical and dreamy, and that their powerful music might sometimes require more ‘con belto’ than ‘bel canto’. Anthony Pryer