The 8 p.m. Saturday performance of Celtic Woman: Isle of Hope, presented by Madstone Productions, LLC in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, was a splendid showcase for the Irish supergroup, whose current lineup includes vocalists Chloë Agnew, Lisa Kelly, Lynn Hilary, and Alex Sharpe and former All-Ireland fiddle champion Máiréad Nesbitt. A brilliant backup band, which includes Brian Connor (piano), Tommy Martin (Uillean pipes/whistle), Des Moore (acoustic guitar), Eoghan O’Neill (electric bass), and pyrotechnic percussionists Ray Fean and Nicky Bailey, provided the wind beneath Celtic Woman’s wings for their rousing solos and heavenly harmonies; and a mixed chorus, including of Andrew Nangle, Una Pedreschi, Niall McGrath, Catherine Neylan, Helen Kelly, and Dermot Kiernan, proved a singular blessing for the two thousand or so ecstatic Celtic Woman fans who welcomed the critically acclaimed five-year-old World Music sensation back to the Triangle for the sixth time.
In a series of high-octane performances, frequently interrupted by thunderous bursts of applause, cheers, and even standing ovations, Celtic Woman delighted the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium crowd with an eclectic selection of traditional Irish tunes (“Danny Boy,” “Dúlaman,” “Mo Ghile Mea,” and “Spanish Lady”), an American folk tune (“Shenandoah”), and an effervescent selection of original songs written for Celtic Woman by their musical director David Downes: “The Sky and the Dawn and the Sun,” “The Blessing,” “Granuaile’s Dance,” “At the Céili,” and “Sing Out!”
Highlights of the evening included two stirring anthems by Irish novelist and composer Brendan Graham (The Irish Tenors’ hit “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears,” and “Oh, America,” which was written especially for the Celtic Woman: Isle of Hope tour). Both vividly limn the Irish immigrant experience in poignant phrases.
The show also featured a beautiful, brand-new a cappella version of “Danny Boy,” plus vivacious versions of some of the group’s greatest hits, including Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” Enya’s “Orinoco Flow,” Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colours,” and Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You.”
Other memorable moments included Lynn Hilary and Chloë Agnew’s tender duet on the “Last Rose of Summer,” followed by Máiréad Nesbitt’s haunting “Last Rose Fantasia”; and Hilary, Agnew, and Lisa Kelly’s lovely lullabye “Goodnight My Angel.”
Show highlights also included Máiréad Nesbitt’s fiery fiddling on “The Coast of Galicia” and “Granuaile’s Dance,” a toe-tapping fiddle/Bodhran instrumental by Nesbitt and percussionists Ray Fean and Nicky Bailey, and Tommy Martin’s lovely Uilleann pipes slow air “New Ground,” in which Martin once again proved that the national bagpipe of Ireland is a strange and wonderfully expressive instrument.
Celtic Woman closed the show with a robust reprise of “Mo Ghile Mear” and a vibrant version of “Spanish Lady” and left the stage with the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium clamoring for more. Can a seventh Triangle appearance by the group by more than a year or so away.