This is a really intriguing recording; it's a sort of musical meditation on the Orpheus legend for one voice plus baroque instrumental ensemble. I think it was probably put together specifically for Charles to sing, since it was done by Susie Napper, the organising force behind the Montreal Baroque Festival, whose enthusiasm about Charles' voice appears to match my own. :-) It contains not only excerpts from Monteverdi's Orfeo, but also excerpts from works on the same theme by other composers of the period and songs that fit the general mood. There is always a danger that this sort of thing could end up being a hotchpotch, especially given the fact that the pieces are in three different languages, but to my mind it works brilliantly in this case.
The Orpheus legend is pretty powerful stuff from an emotional point of view, so Charles is in his element here; with his usual deft touch he makes the listener feel Orpheus' initial fear and then burgeoning hope, after which - marvellous arranging, this - he falls silent for the duration of a little harpsichord toccata. It's the calm before the storm, for the next piece is the crux of the Fantasia - Lamento d'Orfeo or Que vegg'io ohimè (sic) by a little-known composer called Sigismondo d'India. So far I have not been able to listen to this track without physically shaking; it combines raw heart-rending grief on the emotional level with staggering technical ability on the intellectual level, and this extraordinary double whammy knocks me sideways like nothing else I've ever heard. I'm not sure it's the best thing Charles has ever done, because there are several strong candidates for that award, but it has to be on the short list at the very least.
By the time our Orpheus gets to the final track, his grief is no longer painfully immediate; it is now clothed in a sombre dignity, but still no less potent. This album isn't just wonderful music, but outstanding and incredibly passionate voice acting. You would have to be a very cold fish indeed not to find yourself completely drawn in.
Verdict: five stars - I recommend this without the slightest reservation. If you buy only one of his rare solo recordings this year, make it this one.