Much to the delight of its fan base, Celtic Woman, a polished, high gloss take on (mostly) Irish music, came to Shea’s Performing Arts Center Tuesday evening and delighted the crowd by blending talented performers and lush arrangements into a seamless whole.
With roots in the Riverdance phenomenon and Anuna (the distinguished Irish chorale), Celtic Woman has hit a sweet spot, adapting folk and pop tunes in a manner akin to grafting richly textured upholstery onto the bones of a solidly crafted farmhouse chair. The resulting product is more elaborate than what one would encounter at a village tavern ceilidh/party, but there’s enough substance left in the transformation that the general idea still comes through.
The “Voices of Angels” program utilized the undeniable skills of three female vocalists, one talented violinist, a quartet of male singers (who doubled as dancers and musicians) and a batch of talented musicians playing their way through soundtrack fare (“My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic”), new age-tinged classics (Enya’s “Orinoco Flow”), Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” and a selection of tunes rooted in Irish tradition.
Mairead Carlin, Susan McFadden, and Eabha McMahon all had their spotlight moments, as did violinist Tara McNeill, but the blending of voices was the focal point of the concert and it was in the traditional material that the Celtic heart was most apparent.
“Dulaman,” “Mo Ghile Mear,” “As She Moved Through the Fair” and a gorgeous version of “The Parting Glass” were highlights. But McMahon, whose alto wasn’t featured in a lead role as much as the two sopranos, went right to the core of folk art by singing a traditional Sean Nos song. This was the deceptively simple kind of style and tune one might be lucky enough to hear in a home, after a day’s work albeit one with a subtle electronic wash of sound in the background from keyboard player Brian Hughes.
It was those kinds of moments, whether it was from instrumental sections where the percussionists (Ray Fean and Catriona Frost) and/or McNeil’s fiddling took center stage, or the times when the purity of the voices rang through the material, that made the concert worthwhile.
When the program made room for the rural core of the music, during the times when the concert veered ever so slightly from the kinds of big production values – with the attendant marketing of memorial programs, garments, and shot glasses – those are the moments that soothed the soul.
The rest was pleasant, skillfully presented, and audience sating but the historical heart of the music was what gave the concert its spine.
Tuesday evening in Shea's Performing Arts Center