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2006-06-18 Kilcullen

reviewed by John

 

I have to admit that this was the first time I heard the tenors perform in a church, and I have wanted for a long time to see what the natural acoustics would do or their harmonies.

 

Once inside the church, the welcoming expressions on the faces of the entire audience is enough to make even the hardest heart melt and the dampest patches dry up! Why ARE the Irish as a nation so hospitable and charming? In every single direction you looked, there was a perpetual sea of smiles. It made me reminisce (as you will see later) about previous concerts when something unique and unexpected has enriched the evening.

As soon as Granada was over, James apologised to everyone that he was suffering from a rather severe sore throat, as had been marginally evident from the rather more pronounced huskiness to his delivery than I, for one, am used to. Unfortunately, having told us all via his recent posting about his trip to the Aran Islands only a little more than a week earlier, the thought of someone suffering ill-health beneath a glorious bronze tan like the one he was sporting was a little hard to rationalise - I think you will appreciate what I mean when you see the photographs. There was no denying that his speaking voice was suffering significantly. To his eternal credit, he sang a full program with tremendous gusto, and as Matthew said before their very final song, he was amazed at James' powers of resilience. He started the evening singing so loudly and forcefully that it seemed quite possible he might run out of steam, and perhaps damage his voice, but as the evening progressed, he did seem to manage to lessen the force without sacrificing the volume or compromising the harmonic effect. The only other time he seemed to be dangerously 'near the edge' in terms of potential strain was during the first encore, 'All out of love' - yet even then he managed those impossibly high descants which make that song performed live such a show-stopper.

David was, as ever, the central cog of this musical wheel; I always feel that we collectively give him less recognition than he really earns - you have only to watch his earnestness (I so hope he doesn't see this, because I can hear the quips even as I type) as he plays, travelling the keyboard with boundless enthusiasm.

Of course the facet to the evening of which all the regular fans were aware was that this was to be the final appearance by Niall before his leave of absence. Thus it was already an emotional evening for many amongst the audience before the three singers walked out. I have to say, however, that the on-stage emotions were kept well under control throughout, and indeed there was no announcement made of the imminent, temporary change to the line-up.

The repertoire consisted of many of our old favourites, and some items which I heard for the first time. No concert for me would be complete without 'Caledonia', though that was kept for the second half; a marriage of composition and performers without match for my ears - simply stunning in its verses, in its chorus harmonies, and in its delivery by these three young men - as Matthew mentioned, a song they have made their own. And how! 'The Wild Rover' brought instant and complete audience participation. For the first time, I heard them singing 'Bring him home' from the musical Les Miserables, and that was breathtaking for me - their delivery so controlled, measured yet so sensitive as to stop time. Donna came on looking radiant, and featured amongst other songs the delightful 'Katie' with gentle backing harmonies provided by the tenors, and for the first time, I believe, sang 'I dreamed I walked in marbled halls' which was wondrous. She, incidentally, has just celebrated her 19th birthday - I am not quite sure how that one managed to escape us all. Niall was left alone to sing a song made famous by John McCormack (I believe entitled 'I hear you calling me') which was both poignant and bitter-sweet - a very moving performance indeed, and not without its elements of nostalgia for a voice of which we shall be deprived for the next few months. Matthew's rendition of 'The Contender' was the best I ever heard from him. The second encore (the audience insisted) was 'Ireland's Call'; it seemed to take on a life of its own, and Matthew particularly appeared possessed by the ardour of the sentiments. It brought a rapturous response from the entire building full of people. But the absolute highlight of the evening for me (and I have no idea why on this occasion it should be this way) was the performance of 'Nella Fantasia'. The song has been a favourite of mine since I first heard it, but last night's delivery was superb, scintillating, and very moving; for me, anyway.

I mentioned before how the sea of happily smiling faces, full of anticipation, struck chords with me last night. Niall's departure made the nostalgia kick in, I suppose, but I started to think about other memorable concert attending moments. I can still clearly remember the goose-bumps in Cork last New Year's Eve when the audience sang 'The Banks of my Darling Lee' (if that's the correct title) to make the Opera House echo to the beauty of its melody; I remember Niall jumping up from the orchestra pit at the NCH during the 'Tenors' show and frightening the life out of me; I remember - and shall never forget - every single aspect of Elmsford, as I am sure do those who were there as well. Sadly Posh will not be with us for a while. And hopefully Daryl, who's already astutely gauging the size of the shoes he has to fill, will provide us all with other memorable moments. I wish him, James and Matthew all the success they would wish themselves. And this fan, for one, will continue to attend every possible show he can.

John