Ensemble Galilei is an instrumental group of five women who perform traditional folk melodies, early music, reels and airs, and original compositions. Their range of instruments-which includes fiddle, viola, Scottish small pipes, Celtic harp, tin whistle, and recorder-weave a sound that is by turns sprightly and sweetly melancholy, dense as an old- growth forest and diaphanous as a fallen leaf. So steeped are the Ensemble members in early music, that their original tunes are often indistinguishable from the traditional material.
A Winter's Night: Christmas in the Great Hall, their seventh recording and second holiday recording, finds Ensemble Galilei celebrating the season with verve, solemnity, and soul. Recorded live at St. John's College, in Annapolis, Maryland, and joined by Kiernan O'Hare on Uilleann pipes, flutes, and tin whistles, their music captures all the moods of the season, both joyous and subdued. The group performs dances and jigs from around Europe, moody original tunes, and carols such as What Child Is This and Joy to the World, which gets reborn as an infectious push-back-the- furniture jig. They also give new life to Danse Arabe from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite," transporting it out of the ballet theater and into a medieval hall. If Windham Hill had been producing those "Winter Solstice" recordings back in the fourteenth century, they would sound like the music that Ensemble Galilei makes here.
Though recorded live, the applause is edited out of most tracks, keeping the focus on the music. And lovely music it is. Their ensemble work is flawless, their solos are full of character and inspiration, and their musical choices are sometimes surprising, always enchanting. While you're stringing popcorn for the tree, baking a plum pudding, entertaining the in-laws, or relaxing with mulled cider after tying the last bow on the last present, Ensemble Galilei's A Winter's Night: Christmas in the Great Hall will be a welcome soundtrack to the season.
For anyone interested in exploring more of Ensemble Galilei's music, I fervently recommend The Mystic and the Muse: Celebrating Six Hundred Years of Women in Music, on the Dorian label (DOR 90247).
Ensemble Galilei are:
PS: The "Maggie's Music" label is run by Maggie Sansone, a virtuoso of the hammered dulcimer; and if you want another wonderful Christmas recording, I rabidly recommend her Sounds of the Season (MM103).
Edited by David N. Pyles
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