True Love Story. The Song Company
Yellow House. June 5
Displaying its trademark ability to inform and delight, the Song Company's latest program is a semi-theatrical exploration of the legacy of one of the greatest poets and composer of the so-called Ars Nova (New Art), Guillaume de Machaut.
Fourteenth century Western music was noted for innovations in the rhythmic notation sometimes leading to pieces that sound contrived, angular and lumpy.
But Machaut never forgot the lyrical and expressive dimension. His virelais rondeaux and ballades are charming, while his more structured polyphonic works, including his groundbreaking Mass of Notre Dame, use the techniques of the Ars Nova to create invigorating textures of fascinating complexity.
This program, in medieval French and English directed by Leonie Cambage, followed a largely epistolary love affair between the aging Machaut and the younger poet Peronelle d'Armentieres, recorded in a lavishly illustrated book of poems, letters, songs and pictures, Le Voir Dit – the True Story.
With no assistance from social media, they corresponded, flirted, exchanged a picture, coded messages and passionate avowals, quarreled and eventually parted friends.
There was one actual meeting, albeit chaperoned, in which Peronne coyly gives her lover "the key to her treasure". The doleful Ballade Ploures dames (Weep ladies) set the style with characteristic cadences and melodic features of the period followed by poems and solo songs by both Peronne and Machaut.
The ballade Nes que on porroit (Just as no one can number the stars) captures Machaut at his most memorably tuneful, while the Ballade Quant Theseus/Ne quier veoir, using the characteristic medieval complexity of two simultaneous texts, was sung with the additional parts (sometimes played on instruments) sung in Swingle-style vocalisations to create a sonic tapestry of buoyant vitality and richness.
A movement of the Mass of Notre Dame brought the secular and sacred together at the moment they finally met. The mix of recited medieval French, solo song and polyphony could be slightly rebalanced with more ensemble numbers and perhaps not every verse of the love poem Mon cuer, ma suer, ma douce amour.
Nevertheless, the Song Company rekindled a 700-year-old passion with affection, vividness and enchantment.
True Love Story 3pm, June 23, The Independent Theatre, North Sydney
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