“This is a landmark recording and a courageous venture. It's probably the first devoted to Machaut's motets, containing no fewer than 18 of the 23 that survive. It's certainly the first to present them in the order in which Machaut himself presented them in his own manuscripts. And the performances are of a truly mandarin refinement. Here are The Hilliard Ensemble with goodness knows how many combined years of experience performing this kind of music in public; they aren't just on the top of their form but also constantly showing the fruits of that experience. The results of that refinement may surprise some listeners. Tempos tend to be rather slower than on earlier recordings: it's as though they feel no need for lily-gilding, no need to apologise for the music, where earlier performances injected possibly gratuitous energy into Machaut's lines. Dissonances are often made to disappear almost without trace, which will disappoint those who thought the clashes to be the very lifeblood of Machaut's music. (It must be absolutely clear that this was an informed decision by The Hilliards, many of whom have performed this music with other groups over the years.) Diction tends to be clearer than in some recent recordings, and – perhaps most surprising of all – they refrain from adopting current views on the early French pronunciation of Latin. These are all features that could make some listeners find it a touch dull; they might even find that they scarcely recognise old favourites. But they're superbly done, and the performances give the best avenue yet to gaining access to Machaut's still perplexing but always irresistible art.”
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