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2008-09-21 Tullamore

reviewed by John

What a pleasure and a delight it is going to be to write these impressions of last night's charity performance in Tullamore. It was not a concert I had intended to journey to, but I had a couple of reasons to want to be in Dublin around this time, and the deciding factor was when Rianne told me that Deirdre Shannon would be the guest soprano. If someone had dedicated a performance of your favourite song to you, I doubt there's a person amongst us who wouldn't be sorely tempted to do exactly the same. Wuithout detracting in any way from the delightful Donna Malone, I have a great affection, respect, and fansmanship for Ms. Shannon, and I was not to be disappointed at this concert. However, I am getting ahead of myself.

Tullamore is a vibrant little town in County Offaly, maybe an hour by direct toll road route (!!) from Dublin – Rianne and I took a little longer than that to get there, but the drive was not without is scenic beauty, and the weather was frankly gorgeous.

The Church of the Assumption has a fairly modern interior, and Barb has kindly, as always, performed her usual stalwart's task of posting the few photographs that I managed to take last night (it's Help the Aged time again!) The high vaulted ceiling is entirely wood (my guess is Irish oak), and is supported by huge, soaring pillars of the same material. It is truly beautiful and inspiring to see such architecture and craftsmanship which imitates the great arched columns of stone in other churches and cathedrals. The beauty of the wood, of course, is that it provides an immediate resonance to any and all sound. Several people (performers included) thought that the sound levels and balance were adrift last night – for myself, I cannot say that I enjoyed anything but a glorious impression of
surround sound – in one instance which I'll get to later, almost ethereal. And the place is BIG. I'm not sure how many people were there, but my guess would be at least 1500, and even then there was space left over. The congregation/audience for this religious and inspirational song collection was seated in three areas in front and to the side of the main altar, which was itself four stairway steps
up from the stage.

The welcoming address (someone will provide the name, I am sure) contained its moments of gentle humour as well as explaining the serious intention of the fund raising. One of the principal organizers, Sister Veronica, who is, I believe 90 or 91, happens to be the sister of Matthew's grandfather, Mattie, whom Rianne mentioned in her report (to the family she is apparently Auntie Rosalie). She is, to put it mildly, something of a live wire – we were told that her voice mail greeting, after the usual encouragement to leave a message after the tone, consists of two
words – `I'm busy'. I did offer to bring her home with me – she stood me up this morning – as fickle as the rest of them! It's probably worth saying that what seems like most of the Gilsenan clan were in attendance last night – mum and dad Theresa and Sean (celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary earlier in the week, when Sean spent much of the day under a combine harvester making sure that the golden weather opportunity did not escape, sister Fiona, and brother John who seemed to have an identity crisis – he said he was John, but I told him that actually I was, and he chose to argue and argue. I still maintain that it is me, and not him, but whatever……brother Peter was not there, but that was probably a relief because I have one of those too!

High spots…..well, there were many, many of them, and all frankly quite superlative. In order of the play list, I'll pick out my highlights.

Colm appeared first to take his place at the stupendous grand piano on the left of the stage; ever unassuming (mistakenly – he is superb), and last night perhaps slightly anxious because his mother and father were attending their first CT concert with their son as musical director. I suspect they left there glowing – the lad has done REAL good. He really does have an empathy with both the
keyboard and the singers which is at times little short of miraculous. One special mention comes later.

`Ave Maria' and `Ave Verum' were performed back to back, and were delicate yet strong. On the previous occasion when I saw the CTs in a church setting, I was struck very much by the complete `fit' their voices and demeanour have with religious music. I never find it carries quite the same impact in a concert hall. These were glorious and stunning, creating an air of tranquility and absolute peace.

These were immediately followed by `The Holy City', which is so inspiring and rousing, and lifts the spirits to bursting point.

So now here we all are, sitting almost breathless in our pews, and Deirdre is introduced. She appeared, looking nothing short of stunning (in a silver and charcoal grey gown), and wreathed in smiles (yes I think she was as happy as we were to see her back again). Her opening piece was `Amazing grace', which she sang with her own grace and beautiful delivery. For those who have not seen
her for a while (myself included) I detected a greater poise and relaxation in her performance. She was not shy about introducing the sort of tweaks and adaptations to the melody which only come from complete confidence on one's ability to interpret. Being Deirdre, of course, she then walked up the steps to ask whether everyone could see properly (there were large speakers at the edge of the stage). That lovely, lovely lady could charm the birds out of the trees with just one of those dazzling smiles. That she has such a crystal clear voice is a wonderful added bonus, but she'd get by without it in any circles in which I move.

She was then joined by Matthew for my emotional roller-coaster, `The Prayer'. Having been passed a Kleenex (I kid you not) I braced myself for this ritual assault on my emotions once again. But still they got me. I think because Matthew, sensing the acoustics were fluid, held back slightly in the fortissimo sections, delivering the most touching, delicate, sensitive duet imaginable. It is said that
Celine Dion commented that she was sure that if God had a voice, it would sound like that of Andrea Bocelli when she heard their recording of this song. I don't for one moment believe a less exalting opinion would do justice to the pairing of these siblings and the way in which they delivery this composition of sheer perfection. I have heard them sing this song several times; never EVER have I heard it performed as it was last night. And Matthew's voice for me has always represented perfection in a male singer (but he must not be told, in case it goes to his head).

Next on the list is what I imagine will become a staple of many future concerts and, unless I am mistaken, a central feature of this long-awaited new album, which I read last week appears to be scheduled for a Christmas release. Now we finally know why composer David Burwauld was in the LA studio for those photographs. He wrote the theme music for `Moulin Rouge', but, as James told us last night, was not happy with the arrangement used for the film soundtrack. I am not familiar with the song as performed for the movie, but it would be hard to imagine any other interpretation than the one which James gave us last night, and certainly none more moving. Seated alone at the piano, he delivered a performance of a touching, gentle love song which was both soothing and riveting at the same time. We talk about people holding an audience in the palm of its hand – we were transfixed as he lilted his way through this wondrous melody and lyrics. It is one of those songs which, when over, makes you reflect and just say, `Wow, did I really just hear that?' Simply lovely, and nothing short of that. I overheard James say after the concert that he felt it was a mistake to include the
song – I doubt he could be more wrong. Trust your audience – it was stunning in every way.

Daryl gets two mentions in this review. The first is for the next song, `Hard times', which he said afterwards feels right when sung up-tempo as it was last night. My own impression is that it gives him the opportunity to pick up his guitar and strum away boisterously – he looks so very much at one with his instrument, though he was yet to stun me, at least, with his second `party trick'.

`Shenandoah' (as officially sponsored by the all-gracious Ladybarrow) has also received raves from me previously. There was a new feature to last night's performance – though I must admit that I may have missed it previously. It was sung unaccompanied, as ever, and without microphones again. On one line, I noticed that Daryl was singing marginally louder than his colleagues, and then it seemed to me that the baton was passed on to James, and then in turn Matthew to `lead' one line at a time. Given that we are talking about perfection in timing here, I was astounded to detect that the three of them can also adjust volume and depth of sound at the same time, and so seamlessly. It may well be, of course, that they have always done this with this song and with `Danny Boy', that other miracle of timing and synchronisation, but somehow I think not. Thus what we got was the best of all worlds – three soloists and a choral support in all to brief a glimpse of musical perfection.

And closing the first half of the show, `Remember me'. If I am completely honest, this song does nothing for me at all (and I am already ducking), though I think I can understand why it is a favourite of so many. BUT, step forward Mr. Henry with his ivories. I have remarked before, and it bears repeating. Colm can almost make the keyboard talk at times – and the instrumental break in this song last night was just one of those times. He powered and undulated across the keys with such consummate mastery, it was unbelievable to watch and hear. So, with profound apologies to Mr. Coulter (he of the perfect hands – anyone else ever notice?), I'll pass on the song, but extol the performances.

After the interval, the acoustics came into their own. When Colm sat on stage for what seemed too long a time, I started to think something was amiss. Then a beautiful (unplugged) noise started to waft through the church from the rear. It was the opening strains of an a capella version of `Swing low, sweet Chariot'. I used the word ethereal earlier, and the more I think about it, the more
appropriately it defines what we heard. The song, of course, is instantly recognisable, and just about anyone will know the words. But the CTs added unusual chords into their harmonies from time to time, and the overall impression was of distant music seeping through the imposing rafters overhead and then drifting away slightly as they coloured their singing with moments of softness and
then individual separation. A testament to their incredible artistry and the power of layered textures in a musical performance. It was something, the like of which I have never heard before in a live performance. Magic with a capital M.

I could talk all night about the textures and emotions of `Bring him home'. Enough said. Another dazzling moment.

And then the moment, aside of course from the standing ovation at the finale, which brought the house down. I remember very well the first time I ever got to speak to Daryl, and he told me about his earlier training and musical avenues, and he mentioned the piano as being his first love. (Besides soccer). I had simply assumed he meant purely classical piano, but last night he treated us to a
virtuoso gospel piano accompaniment to his own rendition of that moving and uniquely illustrative hymn, `How great thou art'. I am a great aficionado of church music, most especially on two counts – it almost invariably involves my beloved harmonies, and the UK's Ancient and Modern hymn book contains some of the most beautifully crafted lyrics I have ever read. Daryl plays the piano by, it seems
to me, making himself an extension of it. Truly stupendous performance. He sang the hymn at times with poignancy, at others with tremendous force and dare I say joy in his delivery - another vocal performance which will, I imagine, live on for a very long time in the memories of those who were present.

Follow that! And they did. Matthew and Deirdre linked up again after Deirdre's `Marble Halls' to dedicate a song to their parents, who sat nearby. As the `cheap option' to mark their 40th wedding anniversary, the two sang `True love' from the movie `High Society', the song made universally famous by Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby. Once again, the delivery was subdued and incredibly tender, with
Matthew taking the higher part of the harmony. I doubt there was a dry eye in the house by the end. Simply LOVELY!

And finally in my endless list of superlatives, the grand-daddy of them all for me after Caledonia (and I didn't ever resent foregoing that last night, such was the diversity and quality of the whole program). I had not expected it, but suddenly `In the gloaming' was announced. The tenors ascended the steps towards the altar, discarded their microphones again, and the strains of that beautiful
melody, delivered by three voices sounding at times for all the world like a string quartet, set to those touching, heart-rending lyrics, resounded round the church. You could have heard a pin drop when the lines `It was best to leave you thus, best for you, and best for me.' signaled the end of the performance.

As usual, half the fun was seeing my friends, so it would be remiss of me not to single out Moni (no tractor in tow), Rianne, Beate, and my dear friend Maeve. The delightful Gilsenan family, including my new `hot date' Sister Veronica.

And most of all to the luscious Deirdre Shannon, the incredibly talented Colm Henry, and the three owners of some of the most wonderful voices to be heard today, Daryl, Matthew, and James; a huge and heartfelt thank you from one person who was transported somewhere out of the realms of ordinary appreciation last night. Absolutely a thrill from beginning to end.

And while I was away – I realize that I missed sending my own greetings to my ever-present photo-poster, Barb in Toronto, and to the (hopefully) reinvigorated Gary for your respective birthday yesterday. I hope every moment was treasured and cherished, and wish you both many, many happy returns.