If platinum-selling Irish supergroup Celtic Woman has its way, the Irish Soprano will take her place beside the Irish Tenor in the popular music pantheon. Four fabulous Celtic songbirds — original group members Chloë Agnew, Órla Fallon, and Lisa Kelly and newcomer Lynn Hilary, who was a featured soloist on the 10th anniversary CD and DVD of Riverdance — and a flamboyant Irish fiddler — Máiréad Nesbitt, who has fire in her fingertips and an extraordinary spring in her step, made beautiful music together on Monday, Oct. 15th, as Madstone Productions, in association with CWL, brought Celtic Woman: A New Journey to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts.
Six superlative musicians and an eight-member mixed chorus provided robust accompaniment for two sets that included a crowd-pleasing potpourri of traditional Irish tunes (“Danny Boy,” “Dúlaman,” “Mo Ghile Mea,” and “Siúil A Rún”), traditional American tunes (“Shenandoah”), classical compositions (Handel’s “Lascia Ch’io Pianga” and “Vivaldi’s Rain”), Celtic charttoppers (Dougie McLean’s “Caledonia” and Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” and “Newgrange”), contemporary American hits (“Beyond the Sea,” “Over the Rainbow,” “The Prayer,” “Scarborough Fair”), and original songs written for Celtic Woman by their musical director David Downes (“At the Céili,” “The Blessing,” “Granuaile’s Dance,” “Sing Out!,” and “The Sky and the Dawn and the Sun”).
The only negative in an otherwise outstanding evening was the lack of a program to identify the soloists on various songs and the pianist, acoustic guitarist, electric bassist, bagpiper and traditional Irish instrument player, two powerhouse percussionists, and the backup singers and dancers. The backstage team who created the flashy Las Vegas-style set, the moody lighting scheme that accents the ethereal nature of many of the melodies and lyrics, and the eye-catching costumes also deserve critical kudos.
To create a mythic feel for some of its scenes, a la Riverdance and Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, Celtic Woman: A New Journey artfully employs a smoke machine and special lighting effects. But it is the magnificent music — the lovely lyrics, the superb song stylings, and the heavenly harmonies — that makes the deepest impression.
The unquestioned star of this stellar evening was lightfooted fiddler Máiréad Nesbitt, who pranced around the stage in a stunning multicolor outfit that made Joseph’s amazing Technicolor dreamcoat look like a dingy old dishrag that was ready for the dustbin. Nesbitt contributed robust solo renditions of “The Butterfly,” “Granuaile’s Dance,” and “Shenandoah” — indeed, she played everything but “Rocky Top” and “The Theme from Deliverance” — and she also provided animated accompaniment on a number of other songs.
Other musical highlights of Monday night’s performance included poignant a cappella versions of “Danny Boy” and “Over the Rainbow”; a delightful duet of and guitar solo during “The Last Rose of Summer”; Chloë Agnew’s scintillating solos on “The Prayer,” “Vivaldi’s Rain,” and “Nella Fantasia”; Órla Fallon’s solo and harp playing on “Newgrange,” “Siúil A Rún,” and “Scarborough Fair”; and Lisa Kelly and Máiréad Nesbitt’s rousing version of “You Raise Me Up.” These are but the high points of an unforgettable evening.
Celtic Woman: A New Journey ended with an exuberant standing ovation that brought singers and musicians back for three energetic encores. As far as Triangle concert goers were concerned, they could have sung and played all night.
Celtic Woman: A New Journey: http://www.celticwoman.com/trellis/A_New_Journey/ [inactive 7/08]. Celtic Woman: http://www.celticwoman.com/index.asp [inactive 7/08]. Chloë Agnew: http://www.chloeagnew.net/ [inactive 8/10]. Órla Fallon: http://www.orlafallon.net/ [inactive 8/09]. Lynn Hilary: http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&
friendID=73538653. Lisa Kelly: http://www.lisakelly.com/ [inactive 6/08]. Máiréad Nesbitt: http://www.maireadnesbitt.com/10240768.html [inactive 6/09]. David Downes: http://www.celticwoman.com/trellis/The_Music/ [inactive 7/08].