Almost 460 years to the day, the ensemble presented a 90-minute program of music, projections and narration to commemorate the Feast of the Oath of the Pheasant. This party, given by Philip, Duke of Burgundy, was to urge a crusade against the Ottoman Turks who nine months before had taken the holy city of Constantinople.
The early-music community has for decades presented such commemorations, purporting to recreate aural events associated with coronations, funerals, masses and weddings. Spiritedly played and sung, the evening devoted to The Feast of the Oath of the Pheasant is the Newberry Consort’s modest entry to an ever-growing catalog.
Always such programs have involved varying amounts of research and conjecture. There is more than one written account of Philip’s feast but only a single unhelpful image. So David Douglass, co-director of the Consort, had his musicians read aloud from the most vivid description, by chronicler Olivier de la Marche, and perform 22 short pieces assembled around the three by Guillaume Dufay that many (but not all) scholars think were included.
The visual backdrops, often accompanying translations of vocal texts, were brought together from illuminations and tapestries having no connection to Philip’s party. In consequence, many details differed from what was described orally, though in the main the images complemented the texts to fine effect, amply conveying extravagance.
De la Marche’s account cites at least 28 musicians, implying several more. Six made up the Newberry Consort, and they narrated and sung sometimes less pleasingly than they played. The primary vocalist was Consort co-director Ellen Hargis, whose authority shone not only in lively pieces but also Dufay’s great “Lamentatio sanctae matris ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae,” the banquet’s conjectured high point
Thinness of texture was the chief disappointment, especially in more militant and festive pieces such as Conrad Paumann’s “Fanfare.” But to hear the ease with which Tom Zajac alternated among nearly a dozen instruments (including bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy) and the vigor with which Rachel Barton Pine attacked the rebec, a Renaissance ancestor of the violin, was to experience early music at its committed best.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC