Celtic Connections review: Òrain nan Gàidheal, Songs of the Gael, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

It was a proud occasion in multiple ways for Scotland's Gaelic community, as a baker's dozen of its finest singers stepped centre stage, with no less eminent a backing band than the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, premièring bespoke arrangements of their chosen material. It was a big night, too, for BBC ALBA, marking the start of its 10th anniversary year, with proceedings filmed in full for broadcast in February and March.
Julie Fowlis PIC: Michael GillenJulie Fowlis PIC: Michael Gillen
Julie Fowlis PIC: Michael Gillen

Òrain nan Gàidheal, Songs of the Gael, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

First and foremost, though, the show underlined Gaelic song’s reaffirmed place among the jewels in Scotland’s cultural crown, confidently at ease and commanding a 1,000-strong crowd in Celtic Connections’ flagship venue. Plenty in the audience were Gaels themselves, as evinced by how many joined in on several choruses – presumably a novel experience for at least some orchestra members, along with conductor Stephen Bell jigging and toe-tapping during the uptempo numbers. It was certainly key to the evening’s success that the new arrangements were created by such trad-savvy types as

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Donald Shaw, Pippa Murphy and Donald Grant, displaying an admirable balance of sensitivity and boldness, and a diversity of approach spanning delicate string-section washes and all-guns-blazing splendour.

Ultimately, though, the songs were the thing, superbly delivered in all their multifarious, boundlessly expressive glory by a uniformly stellar cast, featuring established names like Julie Fowlis, Karen Matheson and Arthur Cormack alongside rising stars Mischa Macpherson and Robert Robertson.

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