Group's music revives holiday spirit Concert: A performance by the Ensemble Galilei at St. John's College recalls the sounds of medieval Europe and Colonial America.

December 24, 1998|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Without much difficulty, the Christmas season can become a crushing agenda instead of the warm, introspective time of year it's supposed to be.

That's why I'm especially glad my wife, Carolyn, treated me to a concert by the Ensemble Galilei at the Great Hall on the St. John's College campus Sunday night.

I may be the only Annapolitan not to have attended the Christmas concerts offered by these six gifted female musicians over the past eight years, and I'm tickled that I was at last able to experience the anachronistic sounds of medieval Europe, Colonial America, and modern-day Ireland this ensemble re-creates so beautifully.

When these women play, one is bathed in the cleansing glow of seasonal light.

Christmas, we hear in the carols, is about angels touching their harps of gold. Well, when Sue Richards touches her Celtic harp in that beautiful Appalachian hymn, "I Wonder as I Wander," cherubs and seraphs seem to be bending toward Earth very lovingly indeed.

Christmas is truly about harmony, and what more meaningful way to make real that consonance we all seek than with the lush, but gentle voices that make the Galilei rendition of "Greensleeves" come alive with expressive purpose.

Acknowledgment of Christmas is a timeless phenomenon. And by connecting "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" from 12th-century France, "Es ist ein Ros ensprungen" from 16th-century Germany and "Riu Riu Chiu" from Renaissance Spain, we are reminded, even as old Scrooge was, that Christmas is a nexus where the past can meld with the present to inspire us in the future.

Finally, we realize that Christmas, like life itself, should truly be a dance of joy. When Galilei's antique fiddles sing out even in secular offerings like "The Spice Reel" or in more seasonally charged fare like "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day," it's hard not to dance right along.

The hustle and bustle of Christmas comes and goes, but I suspect Ensemble Galilei captures its essential quality so vividly that it could indeed become more of a year-round state of mind.

Pub Date: 12/24/98

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