Red Knot
Reviews from the Atlanta Celtic Quarterly
Red Knot

All reviews by David Marcus unless otherwise noted.
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RTE Orchestra Pleases, Puzzles
The March 14, 1997, performance of the RTE Irish National Radio Orchestra marked the first time that an Irish orchestra has performed in the United States. Judging by the reaction of the audience--a packed house of 1200 or so people at Emory's Glenn Memorial Auditorium--it won't be the last time. The program, ranging from Bill Whelan to light operatic excerpts and to Leroy Anderson, was carefully crafted to be a crowd pleaser, and succeeded mightily.

The classical/pops orchestra, 44 persons in strength, played superbly. The string section, smaller in proportion than the strings of a full-sized orchestra, played with remarkable lushness and unity--a Philadelphia Orchestra string section in miniature. The woodwinds (especially the principal oboe) were exceptionally well-articulated and graceful. Unfortunately, their talent was not matched by the step dancers they brought, the male contingent of which imitated the inestimable Michael Flatley more in personal style than in ability. Soprano Maeve Ni Mhaolchatha sounded thin in the first half but better warmed-up by the end of the program, singing a lovely vocalise as part of The Lost Island, a Famine-based piece by Michael Houlihan that included some very moving modern dance by the female dancers of the troupe. Piper Michael McGoldrick played with a nicely under-ornamented style and did a yeoman-like job in excerpts from Shaun Davey's The Brendan Voyage, including Water Under the Keel, (my long-time personal favorite piece from that suite).

The concert was titled The Spirit of Ireland: A Panoramic Tour of Irish Life and Culture in Music, Poetry and Dance and it is about this that your reviewer remains puzzled. The best analogy of which I can think would be the Boston Pops to coming to Atlanta, playing a concert of classical settings of black spirituals, and calling it The Spirit of Black America Today. Whatever spirit of Ireland there was in the RTE program' spirit was solely of lace and teacups, leprechauns and pots of gold, and perhaps John Wayne falling for Maureen O'Hara. Other than the compositions by Davey, Houlihan and, of course, Thomas Moore, the music had little to do with Ireland except for the use of some traditional melodies arranged and played with every speck of the traditional wrung out of them. (How dare they include Leroy Anderson's setting of The Irish Washerwoman under the rubricSpirit of Ireland!)

The concert pandered--successfully--to the audience, presenting themes of an Ireland that probably never was, accompanied by a narrator who sounded as English, polished, and superficial as a BBC news reader. There was no smell of peat anywhere near this concert and, for this individual reviewer, that smelled in and of itself. Yet 1200 people were thrilled by the show, and the RTE Orchestra is to be admired for how well they matched material to audience.

David Marcus  
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