Reviewed today is the Planxty concert in Vicar St, Kris Kristoffern’s performance at the Point, The Bord Gais Opera Gala at the National Concert Hall and the Ulster Orchestra at the Ulster Hall in Belfast.
Planxty, Vicar St, Dublin: Micheál Martin should bottle and dispense Planxty: with curative properties that should tackle every ailment from ingrown toenails to cancer. Endorphins were flowing so fervently across the entire audience last Friday in Vicar St that we levitated rather than ambled towards the exits.
There was an air of expectation hanging over the crowd beforehand that would fire a rocket launcher. 23 years is a mighty long time to wait for the rekindling, but somehow we guessed that the wait would be worth it.
Just as soon as Liam Ó Floinn exhorted the rest of them to 'take it away boys', we knew we were on home turf and that not only would the sods be cut, but that they'd be turned, footed and loaded on the trailer by the time the lights came up, an exhilarating two hours later.
Ó Floinn's invisible readying of the bellows, Lunny's and Irvine's intricate tapestry of bouzouki and mandolin, and Christy's nervy introductions had the sardine-packed audience on the edge of their seats from the get go. Lunny's bouzouki has always been credited as the engine of the band, and rightly so, his muscular, driving rhythms marking out their territory. Andy Irvine's mandolin and guitar cross-stitched in between with that old familiar ease, his vocals lending their characteristic finesse to the pot. And Christy's sheer ebullience guaranteed that the epic sagas such as The Good Ship Kangaroo gathered all before them in their welcoming gabháil.
But Liam Ó Floinn was the lynchpin that not only held them together but bolstered them so securely that they could take flight. His utterly controlled, surgically precise reading of everything from Sí Bheag Sí Mhór to Tabhair Dom Do Lámh and An Buachaill Chaol Dubh was enough to lure the hardiest of piping allergists into the midst of the mêlée. And when he sidled into the heart of Christy's ultimate set piece, that spellbinding, 26 verse tale of adultery, murder (and true love) that is Little Musgrave, well, some of us simply exited the planet at that moment, content to float free on the sheer genius and magic of the ensemble playing.
They acknowledged their inheritances generously, from Ballyvourney's Elizabeth Cronin to Mickey McConnell and John Reilly. They traced the thread from Turlough O'Carolan all the way to the anonymous donation of Little Musgrave, found by Christy on a series of loose pages languishing on an auctioneer's floorboards.
There were punters there who probably still have the stubs of their tickets from the early days. Everyone just knew that this was going to be something special. For those of us who'd lived their music through the albums, never having witnessed them in 3D, it was akin to an awakening. Liam Ó Floinn's pipes were the real revelation, the Marilyn Monroe who burst from the cake at JFK's birthday party. Breaths will be held in anticipation of their live album, and after that, who knows? But these boys' appetites for one another's company won't be easily sated by a dozen New Year gigs. New tunes are lurking very close to the stage door. We could almost hear them tiptoeing towards Lunny's bouzouki as we floated home.
Kris Kristofferson, The Point, Dublin:
Occasional hands of concrete can often spoil a concert, especially when acoustic guitar work is involved. In Kris Kristofferson's case his natural miscues (although it could have been nervousness or just plain under-rehearsal blues) was offset by a craggy demeanour that growled forgiveness and understanding.
Kristofferson is an anomaly in country music terms; not as deified as Hank Williams, as iconic as Johnny Cash or as prolific as Willie Nelson, he steered the genre away from the middle of the road with his laconic, literal and socially liberal songs. He's also the only Nashville-based country cat to sing regularly about getting drunk and stoned (or indeed wanting to), a fact that alienated him from the country music establishment and beckoned him towards the less constrictive 1970s rock fraternity.
His unadorned songs of losers, drifters, border towns, drinking dens, truckers, waitresses and fractured romances marked him down as a disciple of Bob Dylan, but his increasingly poetic turn of phrase echoed the influence of Leonard Cohen. At The Point on Saturday, Kristofferson sporadically proved to be their match. Drawing heavily from the earlier part of his career, the singer tumbled through some deceptively brilliant simple songs: The Best of All Possible Worlds, Casey's Last Ride, Darby's Castle, Jody and the Kid and Nobody Wins.
He filtered in his best-known tunes, too: Me and Bobby McGee, Help Me Make it Thru the Night, For the Good Times, Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down, Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again) and The Silver Tongued Devil and I.
Technically speaking, the concert was loose and adrift, but Kristofferson nevertheless pulled the threads together through an intimate mixture of charm, determination and honesty, through instructive songs that blended the personal with the political, and by casually placing the grit into integrity. Fans shouldn't miss his extra Point concert on February 22.
Bord Gáis Opera Gala, National Concert Hall, Dublin: Sweet, bright and subtle are the most apt adjectives to sum up the impressions made by the three solo singers in this concert.
British soprano Suzannah Clarke has a well-schooled voice that holds a smooth line and tackles light coloratura with ease. She also displayed theatrical awareness in arias and duets from Faust, Lucia di Lammermoor and Rigoletto where she put across the characters' vulnerability admirably. Butterfly's "Un bel di" suffered from an out-of-scale and strident climax, but she was thoroughly assured as the hard-up prima donna in Ziehrer's Der Schätsmeister and quite charming in Sieczynski's waltz song about Vienna.
Australian tenor Julian Gavin has a strong vocal presence that offers a forward-placed and wide-ranging voice topped by a fearless upper register.
He favoured forthrightness rather than tenderness, although he did produce some soft singing. He was best heard as Bizet's Don José and Nadir, the latter in a strong performance of the popular Pearl Fishers duet with Giuseppe Altmore.
The Italian baritone has been here before, and I remember being impressed as much by his dramatic assurance as by his vocal prowess. I still am. In solos and duets by Donizetti, Verdi and Bizet his portrayal of clearly defined and diverse emotions like rage, pathos, bullying and steadfastness was achieved by musically-aware phrasing and subtle tonal shading.
Philip Thomas was his usual supportive self at the piano. Frank Kelly's Bray Choral Society, ably accompanied by Stuart Sullivan, backed some of the solo items and gave enthusiastic performances of a range of choral pieces.
Ulster Orchestra - Thierry Fischer, Ulster Hall, Belfast: Weber - Overture, The Ruler of the Spirits. Chopin - Piano Concerto No 1. Dvorak - Symphony No 7.
A young man's work, written before he was 20, Chopin's E minor Piano Concerto can seem remarkably world-weary in performance. In particular, the orchestral introduction to the first movement is often heavy and brooding, the music weighed down by Chopin's solid orchestration. Thierry Fischer remained faithful to the composer's scoring but subtly lightened his textures, providing a mobile, clearly articulated framework for the young Polish pianist Ewa Kupiec.
For her part Kupiec provided beautifully polished playing, light-toned for the most part, with the often intricate embroidery of Chopin's piano writing rendered with sparkling clarity. An encore - the early C sharp minor Nocturne - showed the depths of expression she can achieve, but in the slow movement of the concerto it was the polite surface of the music rather than its inner heart that was on show. In the finale conductor and soloist carefully refined away any hint of the Polish peasant dance; the piano part is peppered with directions such as 'risoluto', 'con fuoco' and 'brillante', but the effect tended to be similar.
If a dance-like feel persisted in the most emotionally charged parts of the outer movements of the Dvorák symphony, it was to the music's advantage. This was one of the finest things Fischer has given us, well paced, carefully detailed, and capturing the work's moods of drama, sentiment, and nostalgia. The Weber overture had much of the same energy and spontaneity, and the warm Ulster Hall acoustic lent a fine bloom to the string tone throughout.