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

Julie Fowlis PIC: Michael Gillen
Julie Fowlis PIC: Michael Gillen
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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.

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

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.