Ensemble Galilei, a six-woman group dedicated to Celtic and early music, presented a concert of traditional melodies of the solstice season, some with updated arrangements, at Strathmore Hall Thursday evening. Noels from early Renaissance Europe opened the program. Ensemble leader Carolyn Anderson Surrick coaxed sonorous tones from a viola da gamba, an instrument a tad exotic for audiences familiar only with the 19th-century orchestra.
The variety of instruments used by the musicians obtained unusual tonal diversity and atmosphere. They played cymbals the size of doll's teacups, an "ocean drum" (a bodhran with a layer of metal beads on the inside of the drumhead), spoons, polished bones and oboe. Of course, they also needed the usual Celtic accouterments--fiddles, recorders, harp and the droning uilleann pipes. Harpist Sue Richards's "November Woods" and "Fire in the Hearth" issued a quiet meditative interlude amid the brisk carols from the Basque, Welsh, Scottish and other Celtic homelands.
Much of the program tinkered with traditional arrangements, especially percussionist Jan Hagiwara's stripped-down "Good King Wenceslas" with a beat approaching that of reggae. "The Bell Carol" featured inventive parts for plucked strings and sleigh bells, and "Joy to the World" was given a Celtic twist to conclude the program.