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2008-12-16 Dublin NCH, IRL

written by John

Ahh, the glorious NCH. Just thinking about the place changes my demeanour for the better.

Firstly, I must apologise for the lateness of this commentary on the concert this Tuesday – other pressing matters interrupted my flow. Finally I am able to add my own observations on another not-to-be-missed event.

Rianne has provided a synopsis of the evening's program, though I believe there might have one or two minor omissions, not least the inclusion of `Once in Royal David's City' in the Christmas selection which opened the second half of the concert. This was a beautifully constructed sequence of some of the better and more popular Christmas pieces, and included one of my own favourite carols, `In the bleak mid-winter', which one of my wife's and my dinner companions that night had offered to pay to hear in an upcoming church service! I am sure they were delighted with the choice.

I have never seen the tenors perform at any of the many festivals they attend, especially in the US, each year, so was not sure what to expect; not knowing the music of Dervish, who were guests for this and the remaining Irish dates this year, I was very happily entertained to a gamut of musical styles and tempos. Whether it is because jigs and reels are not a staple in England, I always find myself carried along with boundless enthusiasm when fiddlers start lifting the tempo away from the usual classical genre. I have always had a `thing' about music that is irresistible to two dancing feet (all stand clear!), and the music of Dervish fills that requirement very well. They are a group of (I think) 8 musicians, one of whom, Cathy Jordan (that's J O R D A N, Daryl) sings vocals and plays bones (something like playing spoons...I hope this means something to people outside Europe. Bones really are bones, and are used in a similar way to that in which the Spanish play castanets – clicking along with the rhythm). Being used to hearing sopranos guesting on a CT stage, I was happily delighted to hear this mixture of styles, which to my ears worked perfectly. I am not sure that those with a more classically attuned ear would have enjoyed the melding of the musical styles as much as I did, but certainly I found the blending of styles uplifting, light-hearted, and simply lots of fun. It was eminently clear that there was a mutual affection nd love opf collaboration between the two groups of perfomers themselves.

I think significant enjoyment on my part was derived from the complementary and busy jangling musical cacophony which the mixing of so many instruments brings. Colm was there playing with his usual stately aplomb, but the overall sound when the two parties played together reminded me very much of early Bono (that's Sonny) arrangements for his wife Cher, where bells, harps and mandolins created a wall of sound. I have always loved what I refer to as `busy' tunes, and busy can take many forms, whether it is fast and manic violins racing up and down runs of notes, or my beloved tambourines accenting the rhythmic punctuation of a song. There were a number of occasions when this fullness of sound made new interpretations of songs very different and sometimes very special, and I'll try to recall my highlights later on.

Incidentally, I note that Colm did not merit a sartorial mention earlier – his jacket was lined with a deep cream silk lining which blended nicely with his silky-smooth piano playing; I notice Rianne talked about `showing off' the linings – she really meant flashing! And shamelessly! The new jackets are exquisite – clearly a high
quality inky black velvet with a positively glistening sheen under stage lights. Time to start trying to misappropriate one of those, since I failed so miserably with David Munro's spangled version some years ago.

The musical highlights? Well, there were many, not least because much of the program is taken from the new album, and familiar favourites were given a different complexion by virtue of the fusion of these two musical styles.

Colm, as Rianne said, started the program with a piano solo of part of `Remember me'. Rather like my primary school headmaster who also played the church organ, Colm is able to make a piano sound as though it is literally articulating emotion. More of this would also be lovely to hear.

`The town I loved so well' is always a very emotional piece to sing – I don't think I heard them sing it better. Ever. It's a song which transcends all political separations because of the rawness of its regret and anger – there is no way one can fail to be moved by the sentiments of the lyricist.

`The Holy City' has risen from nowhere last year to be an essential component of any church performance these days, and this was the first occasion when the entire National Concert Hall audience was singing along, much to the delight and evident surprise of the ensemble on stage.

`Shenandoah' has an extra special place in my affection. I am delighted therefore to be able to report to her that no-one will never, ever hear a finer rendition of this song than that by The Celtic Tenors. I am always delighted to go to Dublin for a concert in The National Concert Hall, because it has everything. Warmth, comfort, style, and the very best sound system I have heard, plus special friends from Ireland and much further afield in generous supply. In Tullamore, I think I might have commented on the turn by turn prominence of each singer as the song progressed. Singing it a cappella again, the distinction is so tiny and subtle, and the acoustics so sensitive, that therein lies the great artistry and beauty of these men's voices. The synchronisation is astounding in its precision, the harmonies incredible, and the atmosphere and tension unlike anything I have witnessed in any concert in my life. One dare hardly breathe for fear of breaking the spell. (I am embarrassed to say that although I have been back home two days, I have yet to play the track on their new album, but it's the kind of experience that you want to prepare yourself to enjoy in all its beauty, peacefully, and that opportunity hasn't yet presented itself to me.) On the strength of that one performance alone, this rendition ought to be compulsory listening for any aspiring vocalist.

Dervish lent their support to many familiar songs. I loved the way their instruments fleshed out `The mad woman and me' and `The red haired woman' (`An Calin Rua'); for the latter the beat was considerably more pronounced, rather than the usual smooth flow. But both worked very well in my opinion. I had never heard Kris Kristofferson's `The Pilgrim: Chapter 33' before, but his writing style is so very distinctive – there is invariable a key change for the second verse, and you can almost predict it, in the same way that you can anticipate how someone familiar is going to sing the next line of a song. A great choice for the record, in my opinion.

And my diamond of the evening (even bearing in mind I had already heard `Shenandoah') reminded me of the time when I first heard Deirdre sing `Once in a very blue moon' with the CTs singing background vocals, and the way the melody just makes you abandon yourself to its beauty. Such a song, in a quite different way, is Eileen a Run. It is relatively long, extremely simple, has echoes of laments in its melody, and was performed by Cathy Dennis with principally humming support harmonies provided by James, Daryl and Matthew. The lines of the verses are short, there are significant pauses, the song was sung like it was made of gossamer; Cathy's plaintive voice was simply perfect for this glorious, delicate masterpiece. One line goes `Beauty must fade away' – not as long as people can sing songs the way these four performers sang on Tuesday, it will not. It really is a very special song indeed, and the respect and reverence with which it was handled this week made it sparkle in an evening full of special moments.

And for me, no evening would be complete (though they have occurred) without the inclusion of my beloved `Caledonia' which did feature this week. On Matthew's verse, he was joined in natural harmonies by Cathy Jordan again. I love the deepness of the harmonies on each chorus (GREAT low notes!), and I especially like the way in which Daryl has adapted the first verse very much to his own styling. It remains my favourite CT track yet (and I suspect it might never be overtaken).

Anyone who has a copy of `An Irish Christmas' will be familiar with the CTs' rendition of `O Come, all ye faithful', (or Adeste fideles), and the wonderful descant – one of the greatest ones in the church's arsenal for my money. That was included in the final Christmas medley which rounded off the show, and always makes me want to explode with enthusiasm (probably because it reminds me of my choirboy days, sadly LONG gone, and the voice with them).

The Gilsenan family were out in force again – mother Theresa being her usual delightful self (and waving with two arms from the balcony), brother John still committing identity theft from me, my routine traveling concert-going companion from Schiedam (the one who DID remember who had bought the tickets), my dear friends Moni, armed with a CD shopping list as long as your arm, Beate and, of course, my Maeve. Moni – I want to see a report from you, please – I could clearly see that you loved the show – now tell us how much! It does not need to be long – just full of your usual enthusiasm and good nature.

And at this time of year, this occasion presents me with the perfect opportunity to wish everyone on this list, wherever they might be, and whatever their personal situations (and not all are happy and joyous at this time of year) the very happiest of holiday seasons, and a happy and prosperous New Year.