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Ensemble Galilei - From The Isles to the Courts


A review of the TELARC CD "From the Isles to the Courts", by Ensemble Galilei...

Their repertoire ranges from traditional English and Irish folk tunes, to 13th century Spanish cantigas, original compositions, and free arrangements of music from the French and Italian baroque. They are five women, but they play nearly fifteen instruments between them, including: the fiddle, Scottish pipes, oboe, recorder, pennywhistle, Celtic harp, and viola da gamba. Although Ensemble Galilei is comfortable within a wide range of styles, each piece is meticulously researched and presented. The wealth of shared musical knowledge between the five women forges a strong personal relationship to their recordings, and especially to those pieces written or arranged by the Ensemble's members -- Liz and Deborah and Sarah and Sue and Carolyn are poets, writers, and musicians of extraordinary grace and precision.

One of the long-standing hallmarks of the Ensemble Galilei has always been: Original works in a traditional style; and, traditional works in an original style. Music that is centuries-old is given a fresh spin; and pieces newly composed are handled with the care of the ages.

"From the Isles to the Courts" begins in medieval Spain, with a twin pair of Cantigas by the 13th century King of Castille, Alfonso X. The ideals of Iberian chivalry are combined with sacred texts relating to the Virgin Mary in these two short instrumental gems from the royal pen of Alfonso himself. A set of traditional English melodies leads into "The Dance Goes On", by the Ensemble's Deborah Nuse, and "Winter's Falling Light", by Carolyn Surrick. The latter tune tells of the winter solstice and also of the longing for a lost love when the air grows cold. Here, the Celtic harp is given a lovely slow waltz, which is echoed in turn by Ms. Surrick's own viola da gamba. The pace quickens with a medley of "Callanish" by Scottish composer Hamish Moore, joined with "Under the Full Moon" by Ms. Nuse. Four more original compositions follow, beginning with the bowed psaltery of "Anna's Garden", and concluding with the chant-like recorders and fiddle of "Lake Skybelow". What will be most familiar to listeners of "From the Isles to the Courts" is the set of "La Folia" variations that Ms. Knowles has arranged from music by Marin Marais (1656-1728) and Archangelo Corelli (1653-1713). Since the high Renaissance, dozens of composers have arranged the 15th century "La Folia" theme for any number of instrumental combinations. Two of the better-known adaptations are by Corelli and Marais, and it is from these sets of variations that Ms. Knowles has made this arrangement of the haunting theme, even preserving its original key of D minor.

The music penned by 18th century Irish harper and poet Turlough O'Carolan was a bridge between the art music and folk music traditions of the time. During the 1720s and 1730s O'Carolan met many of the day's leading European musical stars; men such as Vivaldi and Geminiani no doubt influenced O'Carolan's personal style, but his passion for setting only regional poetry helped the music retain much of its authentic Irish flavor. "Fanny Poer" and "Mary O'Neill" are two traditional tunes made famous by O'Carolan -- the waltz melodies spin out simply above a drone bass, with added decorative touches each time the refrains return. Another trio of tunes appears later on this CD, with the lively "Miss Maxwell", "Bridget Cruise", and "O'Carolan's Welcome" joined together into a seamless medley. "From the Isles to the Courts" concludes with the shimmering harp passages of Sue Richards' "Aisling", and with the traditional Scottish lullaby "Dream Angus".

As autumn gives way to the icy, glistening winter, "From the Isles to the Courts" makes a wonderful musical accompaniment to guide you from season to season: the harps and fiddles will keep you warm; the recorders and pennywhistles will make you dance; and the music of Irish composer Turlough O'Carolan will make you smile.

WWNO is proud to host: Ensemble Galilei on Thursday, April 11, 7:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center, at the University of New Orleans. For more event information, CLICK HERE.

James C. Arey is an announcer/producer at WWNO in New Orleans...

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