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2007-04-28 St. Catharines

reviewed by John

 

The Brock Center for the Performing Arts, St. Catharine's, Ontario

I had no idea when I booked initially that this would be the final concert of the North American spring tour. When I did discover this, I have to admit that I was rather disappointed, because I stupidly imagined that the ensemble would be tired and that perhaps their performances would reflect that fatigue. Just how wrong can one be?

The auditorium is really rather steep, and the stage is not high off the front floor at all. I have been to a number of concerts in this kind of seating arrangement, and have to say that it does lend a degree of intimacy to the proceedings which is not necessarily present in the larger concert halls. The other thing I noticed about the place is that the management were not afraid to make it dark  very dark in fact, with the impact of accentuating the lighting considerably. It was most noticeable during the two a capella performances of the evening. `Danny Boy' was the final encore, and you could have heard a pin drop during the singing of it. But during the first half of the programme, the tenors sang what is fast
becoming another song from which it is hard to dissociate them  I refer, of course, to `Shenandoah'. Those who have been around long enough will remember that I once marvelled at the manner in which they could sing `Danny Boy' with such perfect synchronisation without any apparent signals or signs for the majority of the time. And with perfect pitch. The same can now be said of `Shenandoah', the performance of which they have now absolutely perfected. I had never counted the song amongst my favourites, but it has certainly acquired a new significance for my ears over recent months. And because they were dressed primarily in monochrome (other than Daryl's scarlet waistcoat/vest which was more or less below the light line), the combination of the inky black auditorium and the faces and white shirts picked out so starkly by small spotlights tends to accentuate the silence which must surround such a delicate
performance. Very effective indeed. You can get an idea of the effect in the photo of the three of them on stage in which Daryl is almost obscured. The same stage techniques were used for `Danny Boy', after which the tenors left the stage immediately  highly dramatic, and very impressive, frankly.

Barb provided a song list, and there is no need for me to list it all again, but I hope you'll allow me to mention my own special highlights.

The first surprise was the means of appearance. I am used to always seeing performers arrive from the wings of the stage. In this hall, a tunnel at auditorium floor level allows the performers to walk to the stage through the front rows of the audience. David and the orchestra's conductor came on first, so we knew what to expect. But some of us forgot&..

Caledonia is always an `I really hope they sing' for me  the perfect vehicle for their voices  allowing each of them to show off their solo prowess without wasting the potential for delicate, sensitive, and romantic building harmonies for the verses. From the outset, Daryl has added a slightly more ornate interpretation to his harmonising in this song (he refers to it as personalising), and it works sensationally. No matter how many times I hear this performed
live, it still moves me.

`I'll tell me ma' is a new one for me, but happily it fulfilled all my expectations. A breezy, chirpy ditty, which moves along at a great pace; a great example of lightweight fun singing. One thing was clearly wrong though  everyone but me was clapping on the wrong beat!

I was then distracted as someone was walking around in the auditorium near the stage. Turned out to be Deirdre making her first appearance! All her gowns were shimmering creations, and I think the first one was a deep fuscia colour. She looked (as she always does) stunning, though I have to say that she looked more beautiful than ever, more elegant, more poised. Just more everything! After `Nella fantasia' and the stunning `The Prayer' duet with Matthew (she teased the audience by saying she had a `special relationship' with one of the tenors, before telling them that it was actually her brother  then joking that some members might be disappointed that it wasn't a different type of `relationship' ). Their performance of this song always floors me  Saturday was absolutely no exception. After a coquettish performance of `Libiamo', Deirdre was gone for
now.

Then followed `Shenandoah', which was in stark contrast to the previous song  the audience silence was almost reverence  you could feel that everyone was holding their breath so as not to allow any distraction to interfere with their enjoyment.

The first half closed with `Remember me'. This is not one of my favourites (I actually missed Martin Quinn's guitar accompaniment, though David's tinkling was expert as always). Here came the first surprise of the evening. Audiences almost everywhere take some winning over (except when they are extremely partisan), but not this one  they were on their feet cheering and shouting as the tenors
left the stage. One of those goose-bump moments, I think.

The second half got off to a rousing start with `Ireland's Call'. Then the second highest scoring highlight for me. I had heard of `An cailin rua' (a red girl, literally, I am told, better expressed as the red-haired girl), and understand it to be a traditional Irish song. It is simply gorgeous (Kamikaze Kelt  take note please  you are going to swoon for this little gem, I guarantee it). It has the charm and, almost palpably, the effortless flow of a babbling brook, a light and easy melody, and whoever put those harmonies together did something of such perfection it is hard to describe. The song floats across its persistent hills and valleys (sorry  I often see melodies laid out before me visually, in the same way that I often
use my hands to listen). The delivery was as good as anything I have heard them sing. Matthew said of the song (I think it was this song, at least) that they collectively discovered it in (Lord, I hope I get this right) the archives of The Irish Academy of Art and Music. It's at moments like these that you learn to appreciate what those who archive national treasures do for our global heritage. This is a rare gem indeed, and an absolute no-brainer in terms of material
selection when they next record.

Skip a song or so to 'Nessum dorma' which sees different parts being taken by different members each time I hear it; wonderfully synchronised performance, beautiful harmonies yet again (though I remember the Eindhoven open-air performance with the fondest affection), and then the reappearance of Deirdre, once again scintillating, but in aquamarine (or something close to it) now. I
have to admit that I have been badgering her and all around her for years to perform my all-time favourite popular song, Carole King and Gerry Goffin's `Will you love me tomorrow?' at a concert which I attended. This was the night. To say I was transported is perhaps the under-statement of this century. The orchestra's violin section created the same glow which is present on the recorded version, and frankly, I do not know how Deirdre could ever improve on the
performance she gave that night. She introduced the song as `one of the most profound love songs ever written' (how right she is on that score). No less profound was her interpretation of the bitter-sweet lyrics, whose cadence is the perfect complement to the melody. Sheet magic. And what kind of priceless gift is it when someone so talented will devote a song to someone? I shall never forget the moment.

I mentioned the final encore already, but before that came `Time to say goodbye'. Deirdre was now attired in a sculptured black gown with a dramatic white panel at the front. This was the time for the second standing ovation of the night. Gabi asked earlier today the reason for James' expression on one of the photos which Barb posted on my behalf. It might well have been that he was annoyed to see the camera out before the end of the show. My own feeling is that he saw me pointing the camera, and was torn between the need to not impede the view and the surprise of so thunderous an acclaim. You can't see
it on the photo, but the audience were standing, clapping, and cheering wildly at that exact moment. You can also see, just above his head, a red dot  actually an `exit' sign in the distance  just to give an indication of the depth of the darkness in the auditorium  and this was with a fully lit stage. But I have to
agree  that's an expression I have not seen in any previous photograph. Enlarged, it is even more striking.

And finally, the crowd were ecstatic after `Danny Boy' and leaped to their feet instantly. I think that this is the first triple standing ovation concert I have been to. I trust there will be many more. If the calibre of the performances consistently matches Saturday's, then there will certainly be. It was one of those nights when everything went just right musically. Relaxed, polished, sincere,
and probably not lacking in a degree of relief and relaxation that such a long spell of touring was coming to an end.

And not, of course, to forget the Niagara Symphony. My own passion for the sound of the violin was beautifully catered for on Saturday  the glow of their sound permeated every pore of the hall. And I still maintain that the sound of an orchestra tuning up is one of the most exciting sounds known to man, carrying, as it does, all the anticipation of a live performance.

And finally, to the three gentlemen whose extraordinary talent to entertain binds us all together. All three in their own diverse ways have extra-special vocal talents. It is no surprise whatsoever that they hold such a diverse fan-base in the palm of their professional hands  each of them displays a sincerity and friendliness which is actually not so common anywhere today; amongst entertainers, it is a rare commodity indeed. And they really CAN sing with a beauty that defies description sometimes.

These three are ultra-special, and deserve every accolade they receive.

John (who really is Lord Harding of Strandhill - whatever next?!)