With this disc, the Orlando Consort follows the direction laid down by its successful Food, Wine & Song release of a few years back -- and the group outdoes itself. The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry takes as its musical point of departure the idea of the garden, which was central to the expressive culture of both the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Images of flowers and gardens drove both the secular and often erotic language of courtly love and a great deal of religious musical thinking, as well, and one accomplishment of this wonderful disc is how it tracks the confluence of sacred and secular across the boundaries that conventionally mark the beginning of the Renaissance era. Indeed, even leaving the garden theme to one side, The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry is one of the best discs you can buy to hear the evolution of style from the time of Machaut's Ros, liz, printemps, verdure, which opens the proceedings in the middle of the fourteenth century, to the Netherlandish works of Clemens and Gombert that end the program. Complex formal schemes and unfamiliar vertical sonorities give way to careful treatment of dissonance and phrase structures governed by the ebb and flow of the text as the cutting edge of style shifted from France to England, Burgundy, Spain, the Low Countries, and Italy. The idea of the garden remained constant but changed its shape -- in the medieval era, the garden was an enclosed, personal, or interpersonal space, while the Renaissance garden, as anyone who visits Florence will learn, was a powerful display of mastery over nature. All this shows up in the texts in the musical settings. You can learn a good deal about gardens from the 116-page booklet (in three languages), and for green thumbs there's even a list of plants you'd need to assemble in order to make a medieval garden of your own. It's the counterpart of the recipes included in the Food, Wine & Song booklet. The vocal beauty of this all-male English quartet, augmented by a bass for five-part pieces, is astonishing in view of its vigorous touring schedule -- the Orlando Consort shows up in medium-sized American towns that may rarely have heard a live concert of Renaissance music, and the group spends a lot of time in airplanes and rented cars. People in those towns are lucky to be introduced to early music by musicians of such caliber, who understand the early European mind so well, and the luck extends to this disc's purchasers.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Missa Flos Regalis|