Classical labels are amusing: the first time they release something, they make it look as artsy and scholarly as possible, but when they re-package it as a collection or part of a budget series, they try to give it a hip, mass appeal. Sinners & Saints is such a re-packaging, complete with cover art straight out of The Hobbit and coupons in the liner notes for renaissance fairs and those fake medieval restaurants.
Philip Pickett and his musicians are the real thing, however, and this is an exciting collection of music. The liner notes try to make the pieces accessible and relevant, explaining for example that the instrumental dance-piece "Bransles de Villages" has a lineup analogous to a modern country & western band. Yes, and a theme that sounds like "London Bridge Is Falling Down," too. Many tacks feature lively percussion, like "Non e Gran Causa," with its thrilling and familiar tune. The collection isn't confined to upbeat pieces, however. "Katerine Collaudemus," from the 13th-century "Carmina Burana" collection, consists of two sopranos over a drone and sounds like Hildegard von Bingen.
Despite the excessive packaging and lack of documentation about sources and musicians, this collection does fulfill its function as a friendly introduction to early music for the non-specialist. For that, it is to be lauded. ~ Kurt Keefner
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