Diving into Vivaldi's Orlando furioso with Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Matheus Ensemble, and a shockingly good cast is enough to make even the most jaded listener smile. It is fresh, unrelentingly impressive, and entertaining to a fault. The opera is over-plotted: the first paragraph of the synopsis is enough to confuse anyone not taking notes. And listening to the entire thing would amount to more flowery, athletic vocalism than most can stand in one sitting. But those with the remotest interest in Vivaldi opera, or opera at all, will be hard pressed not to marvel at the quality of what's recorded here. Spinosi is a brilliant Vivaldian who pulls sweet-toned lyricism and down-and-dirty sawing from his Matheus Ensemble, making the most of the composer's rich orchestration. And the cast pulls one rabbit after another out of its collective hat, tackling Vivaldi's consummately difficult arias with élan.
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.