The concert hall is the natural habitat of music we normally encounter there, music of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. But early music belongs in the church, the court or the countryside, and does not translate at all gracefully to the artificialities of the auditorium.
What the Waverly Consort provided last night, for its program of medieval Spanish "Cantigas de Santa Maria" at the Library of Congress, was a context beyond the concert hall that lent a marvelous dimension to these familiar songs.
Looking for all the world like the illuminations that decorate the pages of the 400 songs collected by Alfonso X, and playing on a dark stage with only the somewhat exotic collection of strings, pipes and drums for props, the six musicians of the consort packaged their music in a framework of a narration that unified the program and added humor and humanity to music often viewed as somber and remote.
Performances of splendid variety and artistry abetted the narration. There were no breaks in the program, no applause, just a wedding of music and text that told of marvelous holy miracles, Chaucerian in flavor but devout in attitude. The moral of the evening was well expressed by the narrator in the last tale: "Who spits toward heaven, himself besmirches."