(The) Rose, the Lily and the Whortleberry
This recital structures a programme ranging though four centuries on a perennial theme, that of gardening (both in its own right and as a metaphor for many things), plants of all sorts and their various properties. Works are grouped into sets following a chronological order; but while this may be effective in concert (the Orlandos have a keen sense of what works live), on CD the stylistic juxtapositions can be a bit sudden. On the other hand, the changes of mood and tone are for the most part well judged, and there are minor masterpieces that would not be easy to programme in another context: the shortest piece here, Brumel’s Sicut lilium, is one of these.
The Orlandos seem more confident as the repertory advances and as the style of text-setting allows words and phrases to be more clearly projected. Chordal settings fare better than convoluted or conflicting counterpoints, which aren’t always as nimble or incisive as they might be (as in the earliest French set); but on this recording it’s mostly the intimate or playful pieces that find them nearer the top of their form (such as the Brumel, the anonymous Soubz les branches and Vasquez’s En la fuente del rosel). Not everything is so confident (the tuning at the start of Sermisy’s Changeons propos is uncertain, for example), but towards the end of the recital, the 16th century ushers in the recital’s most expansive pieces and predominantly five-voice textures (with bass Robert Macdonald); whereupon the tentativeness noted earlier is banished. The booklet is one of the most sumptuous productions I have seen, with many colour pictures and several essays.