WASHINGTON, December 29, 2013 – Over 1,000 fans of The Irish Tenors—a full house—enjoyed a light-hearted pre-Christmas season treat last weekend in the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland.
The Irish Tenors have been appearing together since 1998, when they vaulted to fame in a PBS special seen around the world. This reviewer watched that inaugural concert and has followed them through the years as they entertained enthusiastic audiences in some of the most famous venues of Europe and America. Their songs of the oppressed Irish people have been especially moving, and the sheer power of their voices has taken many standards from various lands and peoples to new heights.
The three Irish Tenors are Finbar Wright, whose voice possesses the clear and sweet quality that Americans associate with an “Irish tenor;” Anthony Kearns, a truly accomplished singer with an operatic full voice; and Ronan Tynan, who provided several humorous monologues at different points in the Tenors’ recent program here.
Each of these singers has a solo career independent of their famous trio, whose almost instantly popular performances first catapulted them into prominence in 1998.
Of the three, Kearns is the best known locally. He has been called “Washington’s Tenor” because of his many appearances here in recent years, especially in support of America’s armed forces. Among these engagements was his performance for St. Patrick’s Day at the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon, hosted by House Speaker John Boehner, with President Obama, the Prime Minister of Ireland, and 100 ranking members of Congress in attendance. The climax of that event was a standing ovation led by President Obama.
Tynan has also appeared locally at the PBS Memorial Day Capital Concert, and each has appeared separately on PBS with the U.S Air Force band, with Tynan most recently appearing in 2011, and Kearns in 2012.
Co-starring with the trio at the Strathmore concert was the 30-piece Craig Turley Orchestra, which provided a lively accompaniment for the singers while contributing several instrumental interludes.
The ensemble’s Strathmore program was divided into three segments with the purely orchestral numbers interspersed before and after each segment.
The first of these segments consisted of traditional Irish songs, including “Galway Bay,” “Toora-Loora,” a few additional Irish ditties, and “Danny Boy,”– sung alternately together in harmony and in solos featuring Finbar Wright with a nostalgic “Sweet Sixteen,” Anthony Kearns with a robust “How Are Things in Glocca Morra,” and Ronan Tynan with a sympathetic rendering of “My Grandfather’s Immigrant Eyes.”
The following segment was the most stirring of the three, featuring a trio of solo hymns and a powerful, harmonized arrangement of “Amazing Grace.” Most notable in this segment was Anthony Kearns’ rendition of “Nearer My God to Thee,” from his new album, “With a Song in My Heart.” Kearns’ highly nuanced shades of pianissimo were particularly impressive and moving. As Ronan Tynan aptly noted on stage, “That was beautiful.”
The final segment of the concert was comprised of Christmas songs, some solo and some in harmony. It is always interesting to hear simple popular songs, like “Jingle Bells,” Winter Wonderland,” “White Christmas” and especially “The Jingle Bells Rock” sung in full voice. These singers offered an outstanding interpretation of all these standards, with none of the strain or pomposity that is often characteristic of operatic performers singing popular songs.
This final part of the program also provided Ronan Tynan with many opportunities to clown around and add his unique brand of humor to the fast-paced singing. The prolonged standing ovation demanded encores, which wrapped up with the audience rising to its feet and singing “God Bless America” right along with the Irish Tenors.
This concert was not at all like those of other tenor groups, such as The (Canadian) Tenors, The Ten Tenors, or The Celtic Tenors—or indeed other concerts of the Irish Tenors—which are characterized by powerful, emotionally charged performances. The Strathmore concert instead had the aura of old friends gathering together, singing the old favorites, but with fine voices the likes of which are never heard around the family fireplace.
When a thousand people came to hear these consummate yet down-to-earth artists, they clearly knew in advance what they were getting – and they loved it.
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