Last night, France's Ensemble Organum came to the Baryshnikov Arts Center to perform Guillaume de Machaut's Messe De Nostre Dame (1364): one of the earliest known complete settings of the Latin Mass and, by general agreement, one of the finest. The performance - led by Enesmble Organum's director/tenor Marcel Peres - was completely authentic, sounding almost Middle Eastern with their copious use of melismas and vibrato.
The six singers - tenors, countertenors and basses - processed in wearing identical black suits and stood together around the illuminated score, just as tonsured monks would have done 650 years ago. The music wasn't immediately accessible - their voices were nasal and grating, full of dissonances and abrupt pauses - but there was no denying it's mystical power. And, while it may have been unusual to hear this music in a non-church setting, Thomas Dunn's effective lighting more than made up for it.