Modern travelers who make their pilgrimages to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, think of the origins of the practice as medieval. But in fact the pilgrimage has been an unbroken tradition ever since the legend grew (even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that there are factual problems with it) that the remains of St. James were buried there. This release from soprano and harpist Arianna Savall with the Belgian historical-instrument group La Fenice is illustrated handsomely with a map of the roads leading from various parts of France to Compostela. It's quite detailed, almost a Rand McNally road map of its time, and this in the year 1648, the year the Thirty Years' War ended. Director Jean Tubéry, who also plays the flutes in the wind-heavy arrangements, points out that he's not trying to create a historical reconstruction of music that French pilgrims of 1648 would have heard; some of it is chronologically or geographically wrong. The association is looser, with a program of music somehow connected with St. James or with stops along the way (the Rhône region, Languedoc and Gascony, Aragon and Castile, and finally the gates of Santiago). Many of the sections are introduced by church bells, but both sacred and secular pieces are included, with a few instrumental dances and plenty of the percussion that's still missing from a great many albums of music of this period. The program's place on the continuum running from historical to speculative is a bit slippery, and there's no real indication of why some of the music was included. But Savall is in fine voice; much of the music, especially the pieces in the French and Spanish regional languages, is both unfamiliar and attractive; and the sense of a musical journey comes through. Recommended, especially for listeners making any version of the France-to-Spain pilgrimage.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim