Christmas often brings out some of the best, most memorable music compilations, and this year, Sono Luminus brings us such an offering, Surrounded by Angels. This 2-disc set has both a Pure Audio Blu-ray™ Surround Sound disc and two-channel CD. The performing group, Ensemble Galilei, consists of talented and mostly young musicians playing a wide variety of old and new instruments: Isaac Alderson (flute, uillean pipes), Hanneke Cassel (violin), Ryan McKasson (violin), Kathryn Montoya (pennywhistle, shawm, recorders), Jacki Moran (Bodhran, banjo), Sue Richards (harp), and Carolyn Surrick (viola da gamba). The program is one continuous feast of musical delights featuring traditional favorites and some new compositions like The Celt (Sue Richards), Half C (Jackie Moran), and Winter’s Failing Light (Carolyn Surrick):
- Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence/Konvulsionslaten/The Celt: 5:01
- Divinum Mysterium/Christ Child Lullaby: 3:37
- Away in the Manger/Poloness Spoof: 5:05
- Es ist en Ros entsprungen: 2:41
- I Wonder as I Wander: 3:35
- Greensleeves: 3:21
- Quelle est cette odeur agreable/Jesu Kreuz, Leiden und Pein : 3:49
- The Surround/Snowy Path/Half C
- Une Vierge Pucelle/Joseph est bien Marie: 3:05
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman/Good King Wenceslas
- At Midnight Hour/Joy Be With You: 3:22
- Carol of the Birds: 3:26
- Winter’s Failing Light: 3:06
- The Wexford Carol/Shetland Reel: 2:35
- Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning/Farewell to Goirtin: 4:04
- Silent Night: 3:46
The arrangements are fresh throughout with even the familiar carols taking on a new life. There is a definite Celtic flavor to much of the proceedings, but there is also enough variety to keep the program from cloying. Even better, the playing is ineffably beautiful, and what a treat to get Jackie Moran’s banjo thrown into the deal.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 version (192kHz/24-bit resolution) on the Blu-ray Audio was spacious and airy with a broad, deep sound stage and busy surround channels. The 2.0 channel version was quite good but in this case lacked much of the space and bass definition. I could not play the 7.1 channel version on my review system.
There is a bonus CD of this fine program with brief program notes about the players and some of the pieces on the playlist.
The Definitive Word
Without a doubt, this is the best new holiday disc that I have heard this year. Surrounded by Angels is an apt title since there is a celestial quality in much of this music as conveyed in the multi-channel version. In the spirit of the legendary Windham Hill Winter Solstice series, this Blu-ray really does put something under the tree for everyone. If hearing Carol of the Birds (my personal favorite) played so lovingly by Carolyn Surrick and Sue Richards does not melt your heart, it has probably stopped beating. With sound quality at the top of the heap and great performances to boot, Surrounded by Angels, will be getting many plays in my household both now and during future holiday seasons.