The Pilgrimage to Santiago is the first of Philip Pickett and the New London Consort's forays into the mostly twelfth century songs associated with pilgrims to the shrine of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. For sources, Pickett reviewed a number of Spanish manuscripts, including the Codex Calixtinus, Las Huelgas, Cantigas de Santa Maria, and the Llibre Vermell, searching for songs that specifically mentioned Santiago de Compostela. There are accounts and iconography extant that portrays the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela as a merrily music-making bunch, and Pickett considered such visual and documentary clues in shaping these interpretations. A former member of the Early Music Consort of London and Musica Reservata, Pickett is well informed in the challenges facing anyone inclined to interpret the Cantigas; they are all monophonic, and several consist of long, unwieldy texts divided into as many as 15 verses, if not more. Do you choose the best four or five verses and focus on those, or do all 15? Pickett utilizes both approaches, presenting somewhat condensed versions of certain Cantigas and, particularly in the case of "De grad'a Santa Maria," which runs nearly 20 minutes, going for the long version. As each verse is varied a little bit in some way, it never gets boring; in that particular piece, Pickett calls for a much larger complement of singers and instrumentalists than is usual for an early music group, in keeping with statuary he saw at Santiago Cathedral.
Other pieces are more modest in presentation, and in these settings, the voice of Pickett's collaborator Catherine Bott is key; the freshness and rhythmic brio of her singing helps focus the New London Consort in equal measure to Pickett's own direction. The Pilgrimage to Santiago remains one of the New London Consort's most extraordinary achievements and sets new standards for the performances of Cantigas.