Ensemble Galilei • From Whence We Came

Sono Luminus DSL-92194
CD & Blu-ray Disc
2015

Music

Sound

Mozart • Piano Concertos: No.20 in D Minor & No.23 in A Major

The English Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim soloist and conductor
Parlophone/High-Q Records HIQ XRCD 44
XRCD24 CD
1967/2015

Music

Sound

by John Crossett | December 24, 2015

n today’s digital-music age dominated by downloading, it may come as a surprise that high-resolution audio can come in many different forms. Both of the recordings covered here, one a Red Book CD and the other a CD/Blu-ray Disc set, offer sound that takes each format to its maximum sonic potential.

Beginning with the Barenboim Mozart piano concertos, let me say that I found his No.20 special right from the opening notes. He captures Mozart’s emotion, his sturm und drang, perfectly in the opening allegro. The pace, tone, and feel he creates with the English Chamber Orchestra is pure Mozart. Then, when his piano (Barenboim conducts from the bench) enters, he pulls the spotlight from the orchestra, staying true to what I’ve always imagined Mozart’s personal playing style was like. Moving on to his No.23, it’s equally well handled. But where his No.20 is full of drama, his No.23 is all liveliness and fun. Hearing them back to back, I am amazed that even at such a young age (just 25 when the recording was made), Barenboim had already mastered the ability to get inside the music and bring out the composer’s intentions.

The sound of this XRCD24 is amazing. I’ve rarely heard Red Book CD sound better. Yes, the XRCD remastering process is painstakingly done, but with all that, this disc can stand with many higher-resolution discs for sonic purity. The soundstage is wide and deep, with an inherent sense of space. The strings have both a sharp, rosin-tinged sound together with a silky smoothness to the ensemble playing. Barenboim’s piano has a percussive quality of felt hammers hitting strings. I could picture his fingers running along the keyboard.

The Ensemble Galilei was founded in 1990 featuring musicians with both classical and Celtic training. On this Blu-ray Disc, the choice of repertoire blends timeless music from many arenas with a healthy dose of Irish feeling in both multichannel and stereo 24-bit/192kHz audio. The instrumentation is acoustic, so you’ll hear everything from Uilleann pipes to Irish flute, whistle and fiddle to baroque oboe and recorder, drums, banjo, Celtic harp, viola da gamba, and even a vocal or two. While some of the tunes are of a traditional bent, many are self-penned. All adhere to the spirit Ensemble Galilei was founded on: a lively, improvisational Celtic sound.

There is a wonderfully wide soundstage that allows each instrument to shine forth from its own acoustic space, with an excellent sense of tone. The clarity is amazing, as I could hear the sound of hands on drumheads, bows drawn across the strings of the fiddle, and the air blown through the Uilleann pipes. Each instrument was presented with a you-are-there feel. And while the Blu-ray Disc will offer the very best in sound quality, if you don’t have Blu-ray capability, the CD will not have you crying in front of your stereo. If you’re a fan of Celtic (or Celtic-inspired) music, this two-disc set is right up your alley. If not, it may be just the opening needed to broaden your musical horizons.

Both of these recordings, whether on XRCD24 or Blu-ray, offer the listener the highest resolution each format has to offer and neither will do anything other than allow you the greatest insight into the music. Yes, high-resolution audio can come from many diverse directions, and we’d be foolish not to explore all avenues that can bring us closer to the musicians who made the music -- such as either of these two wonderful recordings.

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