Category: Archive

‘Irish Spectacular’ features Gavin and Tergis

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Calling any show “The Irish Spectacular” throws down a gantlet of high expectation for audience and critic alike, and the lineup of talent on Feb. 17 at the Bergen Performing Arts Center (previously the John Harms Center) here promised as much.
Fiddle and whistle player Frankie Gavin led his Hibernian Rhapsody band, who included Carl Hession on piano, Eric Cunningham on percussion, and Damien Mullane, the 2005 and 2007 All-Ireland senior button accordion champion from West London now residing in Kerry. Michelle Lally, the group’s vocalist, also performed, as did classically trained violinist Cora Venus Lunny, Green Fields of America fiddler Athena Tergis, and singer Denise Brennan (replacing ill soprano Regina Nathan), among other soloists.
On stage behind them was the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra, originally founded in the mid-19th century and reorganized in 1997 under music director and conductor Derek Gleeson. The orchestra’s performance was part of an inaugural, 49-concert tour of the United States, and a number of those concerts were done under the multi-themed umbrella of “The Irish Spectacular.”
That title, frankly, oversold what was delivered this night, but the performances themselves ranged from solid to standout in a mixed repertoire of contemporary, classically oriented compositions, traditional music, and pop-inflected ballads.
The skill and dynamism of the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra, especially in its string section, shone in such new or recent works as the “Inishlacken” concerto by Bill Whelan (of “Riverdance” fame), “Aughrim Suite” and a selection from “Deirdre of the Sorrows” by Patrick Cassidy, and “In Spirit” by Jonathan Casey. Even though these melodies sometimes veered into the aural wash of a movie score, the orchestra gave them vigor and precision.
The violin dueting by Lunny and Tergis was exceptional, each sparking off the other’s distinct style to create a complementary, intricate, and very appealing sound. They clearly enjoyed playing together, and that came across to the audience.
One of Ireland’s undisputed virtuosos in traditional music, Frankie Gavin enjoyed his own tight interplay with button accordionist Damien Mullane in the Hibernian Rhapsody band, who sparkled on “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (in Galway),” a Handel piece propelled with the tempo of a reel, and “Tico Tico,” a Brazilian tune similarly infused with an Irish traditional energy.
The array and appearance of the night’s vocal soloists, along with some of the songs, smacked a little of Celtic Woman or the Irish Tenors. “Anthem for Ireland,” which is the “Derry Air” (i.e., “Danny Boy”) melody set to lyrics by Desmond Leslie, Brendan Graham’s “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears,” Phil Colclough’s “Song for Ireland,” the traditional “I Know My Love,” which was given a Corrs-ish tinge a la the Chieftains’ “Tears of Stone” album, “You Raise Me Up,” yet another song by Brendan Graham (with music by Secret Garden’s Rolf Lovland), and John Faulkner’s “Storm in My Heart” were all sung in the concert’s second half. Too often it felt like a PBS-TV pledge drive performance, sentimental and safe, all pitched to please.
But the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra, Gavin, Mullane, Tergis, and Lunny managed to vault those valleys of tameness with their own spirited, focused performances. They made the concert the overall pleasure it was.

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