England's Orlando Consort, a quartet of male singers augmented as needed by other performers, offers performances of Renaissance vocal music that lie midway between the traditional and the highly individualized modern. Sometimes they veer toward one of those two extremes, but often, as on the present disc, they find a happy medium. Their sound, especially in sacred music, owes much to the English cathedral tradition, but there's a well-honed edge to their one-voice-to-a-part interpretations that brings out the crowds who've recently been drawn to early music. This disc is intended as an introduction to a composer who doesn't always offer easy listening to the modern ear. Netherlander Antoine Busnois, active at the end of the fifteenth century and considered the greatest figure between Dufay and Josquin, wrote music that broke free from elaborate medieval numerology but came in advance of Josquin's perfect marriage of music and text.
The Orlando Consort’s third recording for Hyperion turns to the music of Loyset Compère, a composer the group first investigated some twenty years ago. In the intervening decades musicological goal-post shifting has elevated our composer from also-ran outsider to something of a trailblazer, the wonderfully complex Magnificat recorded here, for example, now being thought to predate the masterworks of Josquin by some fifteen years. A gorgeous selection of motets and chansons further charts this period of radical musical experimentation.
This is the second recording of Machaut's music by the all-male Orlando Consort (countertenor on top), and their way with Machaut is excellent. They have a nice, light tone in the secular pieces that contrasts with the more severe Gothic Voices, and they convey the weighty, ceremonial quality of the big motets. Machaut goes far enough back that nobody can be sure of how it sounded (and the graphics for this all-vocal album show a painting including instruments), but if you like the unaccompanied approach, this will do as well as anything for putting the basic sound of Machaut in your head. And "basic," in the best way, describes this album in another respect as well: the booklet notes by Anne Stone (given in English and French) give the most complete, and more importantly most enthusiastic, introduction one could ask for in a few pages to Machaut's stylistic world.
The Orlando Consort performs the music of Machaut, the most significant French poet and composer of the fourteenth century. Sometimes described as ‘the last of the trouvères’ because of his dual talents as poet and musician, Machaut built on past traditions yet spearheaded a new school of lyric composition. In the field of literature, he developed several of the poetic forms and genres that dominated for generations to come. His impact on the musical life of his age was equally profound; he is closely associated with the new style of polyphonic love-song that became so popular in the fourteenth century, and today is considered the supreme representative of the Ars nova musical tradition that revolutionized composition and notation in that period.
Alessandro Stradella was, along with Henry Purcell and Heinrich von Biber, among the most striking and idiosyncratic composers of the late seventeenth century. He is known principally for his cantatas on sacred subjects such as "La Susanna" and "San Giovanni Battista," which prefigure Handel's oratorios, and from which Handel borrowed freely. Stradella's musical eccentricities were paralleled by his irregular life. A member of the minor nobility, he ran through his inheritance while young, and thereafter supplemented his musical earnings by questionable financial dealings that incurred the anger of influential families. These obliged him to flee Rome for Venice in 1677. At Venice he seduced the mistress of a patrician, who in consequence sent assassins after him. He fled again to Turin, then to Genoa, where he was finally klled in 1682. Responsibility for his murder has never been convincingly assigned. Stradella's life resembled a melodrama, and has indeed been made the subject of an opera by Flotow.