Titled “The Irish Songbook”, The Celtic Tenors’ concert program nevertheless spans a broad variety of genres. Although the three singers are classically trained, their repertoire covers everything from Van Morrison’s Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? to Puccini’s Nessun Dorma through traditional Irish ballads and even Dolly Parton’s From Here to the Moon and Back. This is a trio which has performed internationally and recorded extensively (eight albums) since 1995 and their immaculate harmonies are testimony to that. The song list was drawn from their huge back catalogue as well as some new ones especially for this program. The stage presentation was very simple with three microphones out front for the singers and the concert grand piano and guitar as accompaniment. Their musical director, (a young man from Cork, whose name wasn’t provided) gave assured guidance from the keyboard and played with real feeling especially when accompanying the solo pieces.
Although they are all tenors, and share a similar range, their vocals differ greatly in colour, character and technique. James Nelson has the deeper, richer operatic voice, Matthew Gilsenan; a typical Irish lyric tenor type with Darryl Simpson providing the coloratura layer at the top. His is a voice with an enormous range and colour palette with a stratospherically high top when needed. Each tenor had his own solo feature and Simpson’s solo version of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables was the most successful. Gilsenan’s voice is a delight, but he has a slightly awkward stage presence and Nelson’s voice is showing some wear and tear in the upper register. Not surprising after such a long and illustrious singing career. However, when they sing together, stacked in tight three-part harmony, they become one magnificent flawless instrument.
The Elizabeth Murdoch Hall was designed principally for acoustic music and this was certainly proved when the tenors put down their microphones to perform All the Fine Young Men by Eric Bogle which they originally performed at an ANZAC commemoration in Gallipoli. They also went off-mic during the encore with Danny Boy. The largely older audience was liberally peppered with people apparently of Irish heritage who hooted with recognition at the more traditional rollicking type of songs like Finnegan’s Wake, Whisky in the Jar, Spanish Lady, Marie’s Wedding and a personal favourite, Paddy McGinty’s Goat.
It was hardly a night of strictly Irish songs, and it was interesting to hear their interpretations of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer and Bob Dylan’s Forever Young. Their rendition of John Denver’s Calypso was the first of several moments when the audience was coaxed to join in at the chorus, and it certainly broke the ice. This show would certainly appeal to a wide range of people and is a solid piece of light entertainment.
While the singing was of a very high standard, the pace of the show suffered with “off the cuff” comments and repartee which fell flat or simply wasn’t funny. It is easy for a show to become a bit loose after a long tour, and this one is starting to look a bit travel worn. The presentation could benefit from less waffling about the songs and more linking of the songs to create a narrative structure. A director’s hand is sorely missing here. Despite this, The Celtic Tenors will still delight and entertain audiences around Australia as they have all around the world. As they say themselves, “It’s all about the music, the harmonies and the fun”.
The Celtic Tenors are currently on a tour of Victoria and Tasmania which concludes at the Frankston Arts Centre on Tuesday April 24th. Bookings via duetgroup.com