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John Dunstaple: Musician to the Plantagenets /Orlando Consort
John Dunstable, Orlando Consort
John Dunstaple: Musician to the Plantagenets /Orlando Consort
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #1

Just how important was early-15th-century English composer John Dunstaple (also spelled Dunstable)? This recording's liner notes have a provocative answer: "He was the most influential English composer outside England befo...  more »


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Just how important was early-15th-century English composer John Dunstaple (also spelled Dunstable)? This recording's liner notes have a provocative answer: "He was the most influential English composer outside England before the Beatles." Well, there are no guitars or love songs here--only voices and exclusively sacred music--but it's some of the most glorious church music you'll find anywhere. Its transparent textures are laced with dazzling harmonies and lively rhythmic passages. The music responds especially well to this perfectly configured and balanced ensemble of four male voices--countertenor, two tenors, and bass, supplemented on some works by two additional tenors. They achieve a wonderfully vibrant resonance that gives the music an almost palpable presence. Included is a newly discovered canon that hasn't been heard for 500 years--a spectacular addition to this must-have early music recording. --David Vernier

CD Reviews

A valuable experience
Guy Cutting | 06/14/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This recording is the only experience I have with Dunstable. His music is very hard to find; it's available in little snippets on various recordings, but as far as I know there have only been 2 discs completely devoted to him: this disc and one by the Hilliard Ensemble. His relative obscurity can be explained in several ways: it probably has mostly to do with the very small amount of his music which still exists and his position in history as a composer in an idiom which we have little connection with. It's really a shame that he's so underrepresented, because his music is very good. I think the problem is a vicious circle: few listeners, even of early music, have much exposure to this early Renaissance/late medieval music, and as a result there is very little interest in recording it, so it stays in obscurity. Admittedly the music is esoteric: even as an avid listener to Renaissance music I find it hard to relate to. The harmony and sonority usually associated with Renaissance music (Palestrina, Victoria, Byrd) are largely not present here (I'm fairly certain that Dunstable is classified as a Medieval composer anyway). But there is definitely polyphony and harmony which denote transition from Medieval to Renaissance. The listening experience is difficult to describe; my first time listening to the disc I was underwhelemed. But I think the important step is to find the contemplational element; this idiom is a very beautiful one but one unlike most "classical" music - getting used to it takes awhile. You will find, though, a very different mindset in Dunstable. His approach is very mathematical (he was himself accomplished in the natural sciences) and very technical, but those things belie the importance of the music. Listening to the music requires contemplation, introspection, and reflection - not just an appreciation of the sound of the harmony (because this kind of harmony is largely foreign, to me at least).The Orlando Consort sings with great skill. These singers are all quite experienced (a couple of them also sing with the Tallis Scholars and the rest are names familiar to me, though I can't remember right off hand which groups they're associated with). Their tone is good (the countertenor is not shrill), their balance excellent (although with only one voice on a part this is usually not that much of a problem). They blend very well and produce a great deal of warmth while maintaining focus as a whole and distinctiveness between the parts. The tempi and dynamics are good, preserving a sense of mystery and depth about the music. The Gramophone award was well deserved. Incidentally, I wish that the Hilliard Ensemble recording was not continually out of stock, because I'm very much a Hilliard fan and would like to hear that recording for purposes of comparison. Anyway, I can't, unfortunately, offer any comparative information between the two. A splendid recording all around..."
Exceptional | 05/12/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The Orlando Consort has won a Gramophone award for their marvelous interpretation of Dunstable. Dunstable's been really lucky: the Hilliard's recording of Dunstable motets (three of which overlap on both recordings) was also a Gramophone winner back in the early 80's. These are some of the best early music recordings ever made. Dunstable has a special voice, he's a real melodist. Don't miss either of these two recordings!!!"
England's Greatest Composer?
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 12/06/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In terms of influence and recognition elsewhere, yes! English singers and composers (the two were usually the same) had been working in France and 'Italy' long before Dunstaple's time of fame, but they had assimilated continental styles. Dunstaple's music introduced English harmony, based on fa-burden, emphasizing perfect thirds, to the generation of Dufay, and the effect was huge. Possibly the marked shift in tuning of instruments, from Pythagorean to "mean" reflected Dunstaple's influence; it's a chicken/egg question.

Influence aside, Dunstaple was a glorious composer, the musical ancestor of Ockeghem in his freely polyphonic, horizontally extended, rhythmically uninhibited lines. Sung well, both Dunstaple and Ockeghem sound like passionate improvisation in all four parts, which nonetheless reaches cadences with sublime harmonic assurance. No consort or choir has come close to singing this music as perfectly as the Orlandos, not even the wonderful Hilliard Ensemble. And since four voices are easier to record than twelve or twenty (a chamber chorus), the sound quality on this CD is excellent. Why, it sounds like four beautiful men's voices in the same room! And singing with incredible precision of pitch and attack! And inflecting every line as if the language had meaning! This is the best recording of Dunstaple ever made. Buy it while you can."