ALBUM TITLE: Solage, Machaut
WORKS: The Unknown Lover: complete songs (Solage); Seven Songs
PERFORMER: Gothic Voices
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2089
This anniversary disc by Gothic Voices marks several ‘firsts’: no Christopher Page, a new label, and the complete works of Solage, a leader of the Ars nova tradition. Their performance triumphantly affirms the ensemble’s claim to fame, and establishes that of Solage.
Gothic Voices continue to exude vitality while masterfully controlling the most complex structures. Solage’s output brings out their distinctive strengths: precision (of intonation, voice exchange, and blend), edginess (of tempos and line), and clarity (of timbre and pronunciation). Perhaps most impressive is their facility for making highly esoteric music, including the vocalised accompaniment, engaging without compromising its sophistication.
Indeed, Solage’s writing epitomises inaccessibility: the lyrics are not presented straightforwardly, but in a web of densely woven motifs, double musical rhymes, interlocked sequences and rhythms. Gothic Voices do not merely relay stunning sonic effects, but seem to delight in playing with them. Listen, for instance, to the rondeau ‘Fumeux fume par fumee’, frankly the weirdest 14th-century writing I think I’ve ever heard. As sequences and tonal areas spiral downward, the ensemble switches vocal technique to fog up the usually clear text and befuddle the listener. One can’t help but wonder what was being smoked.
Solage is balanced here with some of Machaut’s simpler song forms, and the sound editing ably captures the group’s shifting interpretive strategies. Certainly an anniversary worth celebrating. Berta Joncus