The story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian has been one of England's most successful cultural exports, currently boasting Wikipedia articles in more than 60 languages, including Silesian and Indonesian. This survey of French music connected with the Robin and Marian story comes as part of a series with the perhaps unpromising title 1,000 Years of the Cornemuse in France, but actually it is about much more than that bagpipe-like instrument, and even about much more than Robin and Marian. Les Musiciens de Saint-Julien and their leader, François Lazarevitch, cover about a century of music, from the trouvère Adam de la Halle, whose Le jeu de Robin et Marion (Play of Robin and Marian) is the best-known piece here, to the intentionally highly complex music of the French and Italian composers active at the end of the 14th century. The treatment of the Robin and Marian theme became more complex as it went along and intersected with the developing genre of the pastoral and the fading theme of courtly love. Some of the pieces are risqué; the chanson Ma très gentille bergère (track 13) ingeniously uses the by then hoary device of polytextuality to construct a flirtatious dialogue between the two characters. The players and singers have a fine, tough sound throughout. On the instrumental side, Lazarevitch, relying on the work of several different arrangers, explores how these pieces might have been filtered through the stylistic distinctions of the time: "the contrasts between bas instruments and hauts instruments, soft and loud, airy sound and continuous sound, the indoor and the outdoor," as Lazarevitch puts it in the booklet. The way the simpler and more progressive Italian style filtered into French music during this period is yet another part of the picture. Bottom line: this is an exemplary release of French medieval music, equally listenable for those with nothing more than a general interest in Robin Hood and those vitally interested in how medieval musicians understood and constructed their cultural world.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim