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A recital by the fledgling Orpheus Band, one of the midwest’s finest early-music ensembles, often offers insights into the creative challenges that confronted musicians of a particular time and place. For example, the focus of the grop’s season opener is Italy in the early 17th century. During this cusp between the Renaissance and Baroque eras, composers and performers alike experimented with a plethora of forms and styles. Violin figurations, for instance, became more elaborate; sonata writing represented a departure from rigid Renaissance polyphony. According to Orpheus director Kevin Mason, the trio instrumentation–a pair of violins supported by continuo–gained favor among audiences for its novel texture and sonority. And in the vocal department, the recitative–declamatory speechlike singing–caught on as manifestation of late-16th-century neoclassical humanism that put a premium on text over harmony. In the Italian half of the program the Orpheus provides plenty of edifying examples, including instrumental pieces by Biagio Marini and a psalm setting by the inventive Monteverdi. The program’s second half traces the Italian influences on composers in England and France; its centerpiece is Nicholas Lanier’s cantata “Lament of Hero,” a conscious attempt at dapating the recitative style to the unwieldy English language. Friday, 8 PM, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary Chapel, 2122 Sheridan Rd, Evanston; Saturday, 8 PM, Church of the Ascension, 1133 N. LaSalle; 549-2969.