TARIK O’REGAN: ‘SCATTERED RHYMES’
Orlando Consort; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, conducted by Paul Hillier. Harmonia Mundi France HMU 807469; CD.
THE technique that pop musicians call sampling — taking bits of one recording and using them as elements in another — is very old news in classical music. In the 16th century, composers created parody Masses built around quotations from popular (and usually secular) songs instead of using plainchant, as earlier composers had done.
The British composer Tarik O’Regan stands that practice on its head in “Scattered Rhymes.” Instead of writing a Mass using modern musical themes, Mr. O’Regan takes thematic fragments from a famous Mass as the basis of an elaborate setting of Petrarch sonnets and an anonymous 14th-century love song.
Mr. O’Regan borrows his themes from the oldest existing polyphonic Mass by a single composer: Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame, composed in the 1360s. Mr. O’Regan’s often dense rhythms and counterpoint make it hard to spot the source material within the work’s invitingly variegated textures. But he means you to hear it; he suggests performing “Scattered Rhymes” alongside the Machaut, as the Orlando Consort and (in the O’Regan only) the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir do here.
The Orlando singers make the juxtaposition less odd by singing the Machaut with a velvety modern tone, a very different sound from what you can hear on the Ensemble Organum’s conjectural 1995 recording on Harmonia Mundi, which presents the work in more rough-hewn timbres. As a performance of the Mass, it sounds pleasant but newfangled; as a companion piece for the O’Regan, it works beautifully.
Two similar pairings are also included. “Douce Dame Jolie” is first performed in Machaut’s version, as a single unaccompanied line, and then in Mr. O’Regan’s playful reconfiguration, with the melody sped up, slowed down, harmonized and otherwise toyed with. And a beautiful account of Dufay’s “Ave Regina Celorum” precedes Gavin Bryars’s serene, textually quirky “Super Flumina.”