This recording journeys through 15th-century Florence, evoking its carnivals and parades and celebrating its many glories—its cathedral, its beautiful women and its cultural heyday under Lorenzo the Magnificent, whose poems we hear in contemporary settings. The sequence ends with the austere years of the 1490s, when the Dominican friar Savonarola petrified Florentines with his apocalyptic sermons.
Rigorously researched and featuring several new reconstructions by Patrick Macey, the programme also shows the impact of the Oltremontani—composers from ‘beyond the mountains’. Among them was Guillaume Dufay, whose celebrated motet Nuper rosarum flores, written for the consecration of Florence’s Duomo in 1436, sounds refreshingly lithe and supple in this one-to-a part performance. In the same composer’s Salve flos Tuscae gentis, the consort’s sound is honeyed and mellifluous as the text praises Florence’s dazzling intellectuals and lovely maidens, but the tone darkens, becoming plangent and introspective in Quis dabit meo aquam, Isaac’s lament on the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici.
Several vernacular numbers lighten the mood, including some raunchy carnival songs—though the Orlandos sound overly polite here, given the brazenly ribald texts. More effective is their tripping account of ‘Hora mai che fora son’, about a nun who has left her convent and invokes all her sisters to burn their habits! Ironically, it was later transformed into a lauda—a spiritual song, nurtured by Savonarola, which we also hear in an aptly sober reading.
Throughout the programme, the four voices of The Orlando Consort are beautifully balanced, their intonation and diction nigh flawless.