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From the Isles to the Courts.

Ensemble Galilei. Telarc SACD-60536.

Telarc released the regular two-channel stereo version of this album in 2000, and I'm assuming because of the excellent quality of its sonics they are releasing it again in this discrete, DSD five-channel SACD edition. According to their disc booklet, the Ensemble Galilei was originally recorded in surround sound using the Sony Direct Stream Digital process. If you have a Super Audio CD player and appropriate accompanying hardware, you'll hear the music as it was intended to be heard. If, like me, you have a regular CD player, do not despair. A Second layer on the hybrid disc contains the straight stereo format just as issued in 2000. In either case, I suspect, the sound is outstanding.

Lovers of things Celtic will enjoy this collection of mostly Celtic-inspired as well as European music played on traditional Celtic instruments and featuring the usual slow laments, pastoral ballads, and fast-stepping reels. If there appears to be a certain inevitable sameness about the program, it's probably because you're not a student of this particular genre or you've been listening to too much "Riverdance."

The five ladies who make up the Ensemble Galilei play fiddle, pipes, oboe, recorders, pennywhistle, Celtic harp, viola da gamba, percussion, and bowed psaltery. They sprinkle a little Marais and Corelli into the otherwise conventional Irish and Scottish collection, as well as a number of their own modern compositions, to produce a well-ordered mix of tunes. I liked the names of some of the newer songs as well as I liked the music: "Winter's Falling Light," "The Dance Goes On," "Under the Full Moon," "Home Fires," "The Burning of the Clavie," "Lake Skybelow," and "Aisling." Older melodies include "Scollay's Reel," "King of Fairies," "Old Grey Cat," "Sgt. Early's Dream," The Fair Maid of Barra," and "Dream Angus." I think you get the idea. Nevertheless, the highlight for me was the "La Folia Variations" by seventeenth-century composers Marin Marais and Arcangelo Corelli, a set noted for its charm and precision.

What sets this disc apart from so many other Celtic-sounding albums is twofold. First, there's the enthusiasm of the players themselves, who display a genuine love for the music they're playing, an uplifting spirit in their performances, and a readily apparent fondness for their work. Second, Telarc engineer Michael Bishop captures their music-making with an appropriate touch of hall resonance to produce a realistic ambiance that doesn't drown out the details of the instruments. The result is both intimately natural and sonically transparent. One can see how the hall reflections would come further to life through the use of surround speakers. More important for listeners of the stereo version, though, is that the instruments sparkle with quick and natural transients, and the whole affair displays a sense of depth not always found in popular recordings. Quite impressive.
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Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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