The Gothic splendor of Washington Cathedral provided the perfect backdrop Friday night for the Folger Consort's performance of English music from the 13th through 15th centuries. The consort, joined by guest artists and the cathedral's choir of men and boys, offered a program titled "Canterbury Tales."
Selections included "Angelus ad virginem," mentioned in Chaucer's famous collection of tales, and songs about Thomas a` Becket, the martyr of Canterbury Cathedral. In the 15th-century carol "St. Thomas honor we," the choir and instrumentalists performed the rousing refrain, and three guest vocalists -- countertenor Drew Minter, tenor Jon Humphrey and baritone Peter Becker -- skillfully sang the a cappella verses. For the three-voice setting of "Thomas gemma/Thomas caesus" ("Thomas jewel/Thomas wounded"), the vocalists and men's choir divided into parts, singing different words simultaneously and creating a fascinating, tenuously coherent effect.
Exuding the rhythmic energy of England's medieval music were Folger Consort members Robert Eisenstein, playing fiddle or recorder, Christopher Kendall, on lute or harp, and Scott Reiss, on recorder or psaltery. Joining them in lively arrangements of "estampies" (stomping dances) and other works were guest musicians Tina Chancey, alternating on fiddle, recorder and percussion, and William Taylor, on harp or portative organ.