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2007-09-24 Celtic Tenors fill Memorial Theater with song.

By MARK S. JORDAN
News Staff Reporter
Mount Vernon News

MOUNT VERNON  Good concerts often make their appeal by delivering the unexpected. The Celtic Tenors scored their most potent moment in a Sunday-afternoon concert at the Memorial Theater with a song that wasnt directly Celtic at all. Their unaccompanied version of the old American folksong Shenandoah" was hushed and intense, capable of bringing tears to the eyes of listeners  at least until one audience member coughed loudly over the final, fading chord. But, that aside, the performance of the song was riveting.
The other surprise of the afternoon was that the trio of singers did not sing that most stereotypical and hackneyed of all sentimental Irish songs, Danny Boy". Had they performed it, though, I feel confident in saying that it would have been in safe hands.

The impressive thing about the Celtic Tenors is that they have solid operatic chops. Though James Nelson, Matthew Gilsenan and Daryl Simpson may wear their mantles as entertainers lightly, beneath the stage banter and corny jokes is a deep pool of talent, training and professionalism. These arent just overblown pop singers or American Idol" rejects.

Nelson has performed alongside classical luminaries of the likes of Katia Ricciarelli and Raymond Leppard, and controls a tonal range from soft, silky quiet notes to golden, ringing climaxes. Any seasoned opera fan could identify Nelson as the real thing" within seconds. Pleasantly, though, he also proved relaxed as an entertainer, working the crowd and playing a good comic foil to the others between numbers. He would do well, though, to accept his physical size and move up to some more comfortably fitting clothes. Hes a perfectly handsome man, even if hes well-padded, and theres no use trying to hide whats perfectly obvjous, anyway. Incidentally, I speak from authority: Next to me, Nelson would seem downright slim.

The tall, thin Gilsenan has a powerftul, clarion voice that deftly mixes classical and pop styles. If lacking the golden gleam of Nelsons voice, Gilsenans voice is nonetheless impressive, for he can deploy it in seemingly limitless fashion, with power and passion. His enthusiasm risks pushing him out of tune in places, but that is preferable to playing it safe.

Simpson has the smallest voice of the three, with a dark, saxophone-like coloring. But he deploys it with deft agility, singing intricate hannonies and inward solos. Simpsons moment of glory came in the comic folksong Paddy McGintys Goat". The singers acted out some of the characters of the song, none more surprisingly than Simpson when he sang the part of a young woman in a dazzling falsetto, replete with a shining high B-flat, completely unlike the woody timbre of his tenor voice. Perhaps Simpson missed his calling as a countertenor.

In addition to the folk songs, the tenors sang operatic selections, including an audience sing-along version of Nessun Donna" from Puccims Turandot", an aria much on peoples minds lately, considering the recent death of Italian opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti. They also performed, with less distinction, a number of pop numbers. There was less distinction to those numbers simply because on musical grounds, they werent as memorable as the other folk songs and classics the tenors performed.

Guest-starring was soprano Donna Malone, who joined the tenors for a number of selections, including a lovely quartet arrangement of the Barcarolle" from Offenbachs opera Tales of Hoffinann". Malone also soloed in 0 Mio Babbino Caro" from Gianni Schicchi" by Puccini, showing off her creamy voice to full effect.
Musical accompaniment and guidance was provided by musical director Danny Sheridan, who played piano. Pre-recorded backing tracks were used on a few numbers, but fortunately the arrangements werent too overblown. Sheridans accompaniments were both skilful and shrewd, completely dropping out in places to throw extra focus on the voices.

The concert was attended by a near-capacity audience that included many of the tenors fans from Columbus, according to Community Concert publicist Dean Spearman.

There are some people here who heard them in Columbus and liked them so much, they decided to drive all the way out here to hear them again", Spearman said. The entire audience was in agreement, offering the singers a standing ovation at the end and provoking an encore.