This album is like the legendary worm Ouroboros, which turns around and eats its tail. It combines some of the oldest transcribed music with some of the most recently written and shows how much they have in common. That’s not too surprising, since the three 21st-century works pay deliberate homage to those from the 14th and 15th centuries.
Tarik O’Regan is Britain’s hottest young choral composer. The title piece is a three-movement work that combines the forces of the four-man Orlando Consort and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under early-music maven Paul Hillier. It’s not your grandfather’s choral music, though it may call to mind your great-great-great-great-plus grandfather’s. It owes something to the “spiritual,” Eastern European branch of minimalism like Part and Gorecki, with lots of delicately repetitive textures and ear-pleasing sounds.
The rest of the CD features the Orlando Consort by itself, and the largest piece is the Messe de Notre Dame by the most famous composer of the 1300s, Guillaume de Machaut. This is medieval music before the taming influence of the later English style infiltrated: It’s slightly raucous in harmony, rather bouncy in rhythm. (In fact, all the music here, both early and recent, will probably remind you more of Stravinsky or John Coltrane at their furthest out, rather than Bach or Brahms.)
Another contemporary Brit, Gavin Bryars, finds inspiration in Guillaume Dufay, both represented by lovely pieces. Finally, a tune by Machaut gets jazzed up by Mr. O’Regan to make up the secular finale.
The Orlando four sound for all the world like a whole choir in themselves. The performances are first-rate, and you may well find the juxtaposed musical styles arresting.