Early carols, instrumental dances and music for the church were blended in the first half without pause, occasionally wandering in and out of acerbic dissonances. But the English taste for harmonies in thirds and sixths, consonant to our ears but considered dissonant by medieval theorists, was pervasive.
Two Latin motets and an English carol by the great Elizabethan composer William Byrd began the second half. Beautifully sung by soprano Crossley Hawn, mezzo P. Lucy McVeigh, tenor Oliver Mercer and baritone William Sharp, with wind player Dan Meyers, the fifth part in the final motet was among of the program’s several highlights.
Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” from 1912, adapted for period instruments, culminated the afternoon. William Sharp sang the baritone solos with gusto.
Peppered throughout were excerpts from the 1619 Christmas play “A Christmas Messe,” depicting the comic rivalry of King Beef and King Brawn (boar’s head) for primacy at the holiday feast. Foucheux’s vivid portrayal of all the characters added another layer of jocular festivity to this holiday celebration.
Performances of “A Christmas Messe” continue through Dec. 23. See events.folger.edu for details.