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2007-09-20 Culpeper, Virginia

reviewed by John

I'm afraid I'm a little late with this review, having only arived back home yesterday afternoon after one of those interminable red- eye flights.

Culpeper is a quaint and very pleasant small town in Virginia. As soon as you strike up a conversation with anyone (including or perhaps especially shop assistants), you get endearments showered upon you. I was referred to as 'darlin'', 'sweet pea', and 'honey' as many times in as many conversations. I came home with nothing but happy memories of my short stay there. The town does not contain a public concert hall, but I was reliably informed (again, my source is revealed later) that when The County High School was built, in the knowledge that funds would not be forthcoming for anything so extravagant, an auditorium large enough to serve all six surrounding counties was included in the building program. The hall seats 1,200, and from a cursory glance around, I should guess that around 80% were filled. Considering the The Celtic Tenors are little known in the area, that was a very impressive turnout.

I have heard since that there were concerns about the sound quality during the performance, and it is true that it was possible to see Matthew cupping his hand over his ear at times, and Daryl gesturing to the sound engineer to up the level from one or other channel.

However, whatever the performers felt, I can assure you that the standard out front was immaculate as ever. The set started out with 'Ireland's call', with a mixture of piano and taped orchestral support, and moved quickly into 'The Wild Rover', and within two songs the audience were won over and were joining in without reserve. This was the first time I had seen the group without David Munro (he of the sparkling jacket) in attendance, and also the first time I had seen Danny Sheridan in action. Danny is a very accomplished musician (quite aside from his perfect posture at the piano!), and I can detect subtle differences between performances with David and him. With Danny, it seems to me that the pace is slightly slower and more measured - certainly I did not see any of the gymnastics that we are accustomed to seeing from The Scot. No smart-Alec remarks either - Danny behaves! I missed David's presence, but that should not in any way detract from Danny's magnificent performance - I guess quality just attracts more quality, and his contribution to the evening's enjoyment was immeasurable. Much of the material is familiar to everyone here, but I'd like to pick out a few highlights if I may. Firstly, Donna was back on the bill. She looked drop-dead gorgeous, she continues to astound me with the depth of her tone, and she seems perfectly at ease in the tour surroundings. She sang 'O mi babino caro', which is always a show-stopper, and I was very happy to hear 'Katie' again during her second appearance - her lilting delivery and the wonderful background harmonies from the three gentlemen always hit the spot for me. I was hoping to hear James and Donna duet on 'All I ask of you', but that was not to be. Donna lends a different slant on guest appearances than Deirdre, so it is a pointless exericse to make comparisons in terms of the guest soprano. The guys sang 'A red haired girl' which is fast taking its place amongst my favourites - a sweeter, more gentle, undulating melody would be hard to imagine. 'Nessun dorma', with the now customary audience participation, went down VERY well. The entire auditorium echoed to the 'la-la-las' of the crowd, and they had VOLUME to spare.

James introduced 'Shenandoah' with a fairly lengthy recollection of its introduction into the act. Kathy evidently wrote in a couple of years ago, after having heard 'Danny Boy' a capella, and asked whether the group might not consider the American equivalent, 'Shenandoah'. An arrangement was written, and that sensitive, superb writing is the basis for the masterpiece which I have now heard several times. Kathy got full accreditation for her clever song-spotting from the stage, and was visibly moved. For me, this is the new 'Danny Boy', the harmonies blending perfectly, and each verse culminating in the convergence of their voices into one single, perfect, priceless note of unison. I was transfixed, and only brought out of my daydream by Kathy's explosion of applause after the song had ended. Truly a memorable moment for all of us in that auditorium. No concert for me is complete without 'Caledonia' - such a gorgeous song, and Daryl has added his own special vocal touches to it which enhance it beautifully. And I have come to expect Daryl's touching dedication to his mum and dad before any performance of 'You raise me up'.

'Side' two opened with 'Anthem', probably my favourite stage tune (the sentiments are perfect for anyone with an ounce of patriotism in their veins, especially in these days of abject cynicism all around us). Delivery perfect yet again. The new upated version of 'Fields of Athenry' afforded James the chance to sing his heart out (it has endless very high notes), though I have to admit a sneaking preference for the original arrangement. And it is well known that I dislike James' high notes! (I once made an innocent remark about preferring his lower register, and have never been allowed to forget it, so I figure in for a penny, in for a pound, assuming Heather will send this on in due course. Wha'evah!) There were sighs from 'those who know' when the introduction to 'Ten thousand tears' started. I think this song showcases Matthew's mellow tones to utter perfection, and let no-one doubt that the recorded arrangement is a Munro masterpiece of the first order. It continues to irk me that the track was not chosen for full-out promotion when it was first issued - if ever there was a cross-over hit in waiting, this was it. Donna and James excelled with the middle classical break, but it is too easy to become blase about such peformances, since we are now so accustomed to near-perfection every time.

I have one other singer whom I travel far to see - she and our musicians all have one thing in common - they give of their utmost at every performance, are the last word in professionalism, can REALLY SING, and finally have no giant ego nor airs and graces to prevent them making themselves available to talk to, and be photographed with, their fans after every show. Thus it was that a throng of people gathered in the foyer afterwards, and were treated to what I gather is becoming a new tradition - a mid-signing rendition of 'Danny Boy' (as you will have seen from my photos). And who said men couldn't multi-task????

So once again, a report loaded with superlatives (not at all difficult) - Kathy and I both overheard a number of rather loud whispers during breaks in songs throughout the evening - I recall 'what beautiful harmonies' in the row behind me (clearly someone with ears like mine). A wonderful, engaging evening on everyone's part I think.

So may I end by extending to the unique Kathy my thanks for her gracious Southern hospitality, and for the chance to view the star- spangled crystal-clear Virginia sky from her deck? And to Donna, Danny, Daryl, James, and Matthew for the effortless and priceless entertainment once again.