England's Orlando Consort has amassed a strong following and has evolved into one of the most popular groups exploring the early music vocal repertory. Their fans will likely be delighted to find them stretching back to the rarely recorded early English medieval era with this release, and even general listeners will welcome the music recorded here, in roughly chronological order (and be impressed that this vocal group can bring even very obscure music to the top of the classical charts). The program covers, as promised, the rise of English polyphony in the generations preceding the Old Hall Manuscript, with its music by Leonel Power and John Dunstable, immensely influential not only in England, but on the Continent, with its use of the third as a consonance and its inclination to set mass movements in unified groups. Much of the music is murkily attributed or anonymous, and it's fascinating to hear the use of the third evolve. There are motets with multiple texts (included); sample the ambitious Sub Arturo plebs. The second half of the program is a little survey of the earliest days of the Mass setting as it is known today. The Orlando Consort sings this music one to a part, an unattested practice that gives it an oddly madrigalian quality. But their precise harmonies will satisfy their fans, and they have done a great service by releasing this largely unrecorded music.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim