Little is known about the life of Francisco António de Almeida, but he occupied a central position in Portuguese life in the first half of the 18th century and was able to learn the Italian style in Rome thanks to the ambitions of King João V. The rarely recorded La Spinalba ovvero Il vecchio matto (Spinalba, or the Mad Old Man) is a comic opera which follows the buffa tradition of intrigue and romantic complexities, and is filled with superb cantabile arias as well as a rich variety of original and dramatic orchestral effects. The cast is led by Ana Quintans, a much-in-demand soloist on the early music scene, and the highly regarded Portuguese ensemble Os Músicos do Tejo is directed by its co-founder Marcos Magalhães.
Monteverdi was only 23 when he published his Second Book of Madrigals in 1590, but he was already a master of the form, and these contrapuntally lively pieces, with their supple and astute text setting, are crowning works of late Renaissance secular polyphony. With this release of the Second Book, Rinaldo Alessandrini moves closer to his goal of recording all of Monteverdi's eight Books of Madrigals, performed by Concerto Italiano, the ensemble he founded in 1984. The series has received much-deserved critical acclaim; three of the releases won Gramophone Awards, and this 1994 recording won a Diapason d'Or. Concerto Italiano is a group whose roster is flexible, based on the requirements of the music performed, and here seven unaccompanied singers configure themselves in a variety of combinations in the five-part madrigals.