When it was a large, independent medieval principality, Burgundy rose to the status of a great power and the richest nation in Western Europe by playing balance-of-power politics. The court of Burgundy was for a time the most splendid on the continent -- the last, colorful gasp of medieval pageantry and the birthplace of the Renaissance style in music.
In the first concert of its new season, titled "A Taste of Burgundy," the Folger Consort provides vintage samples of the music written for this court -- music whose basic procedures were still being used at the court of Henry VIII a century later. The composers' names sound like an international Who's Who of 15th-century musicians: Binchois, Dufay, Busnois, Okeghem and Obrecht, among others.
The music, for which the Consort is joined by soprano Ann Monoyios, organist James Wright and David Rauter (playing sackbut and recorder) as guest artists, will have its last performance tonight. It features elaborate, smoothly flowing vocal melodies and intricate instrumental polyphony; jewel-like perfection in the work of Binchois and Dufay, a touch of earthiness in Obrecht, samples of the folk melodies from which much of this rarefied art drew its vigor. It is an acquired taste, perhaps, like the fine wines it calls to mind, but very beautiful and beautifully performed.