Review: Celtic Connections Opening Concert, Glasgow

Folk singer Julie Fowlis. Picture: Robert Perry
Folk singer Julie Fowlis. Picture: Robert Perry
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It’s been said about previous Celtic Connections first nights, but this really was the festival in a nutshell – as far as that’s remotely possible for a single concert, however lavish, when you’re talking about an 18-day event comprising hundreds of gigs, by artists from dozens of countries, spanning myriad musical styles.

Celtic Connections Opening Concert

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Star rating: * * * * *

Proceedings began with a graceful link back to the inaugural show back in 1994, as fiddler Duncan Chisholm – who headlined with Wolfstone on that occasion – led his own quartet in a typically choice selection of spine-tingling airs and fiendishly catchy dance tunes, meanwhile highlighting Celtic Connections’ Scottish traditional bedrock, as did Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, with a mouthwatering foretaste of her forthcoming new album. This year’s Commonwealth strand, ahead of the Games, was flagged up both by redoubtable Quebecois visitors the Yves Lambert Trio, and a stirringly soulful, funky contribution from Malawi’s Peter Mawanga and the Amaravi Movement, whose guitar-led, marimba-patterned sound was at once hypnotically smooth and full of vibrant textures, interwoven with richly expressive male/female vocals.

Even amidst this diverse musical cornucopia, there was no mistaking the most thrilling section of the programme, which saw violinist Nicola Benedetti join forces with half a dozen or so leading folkies – including Fowlis, Chisholm, Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham – for a spellbinding encounter between classical and trad, in which Benedetti achieved moments of truly exquisite symbiosis, most of all in a brilliant cadenza slotted between two Scott Skinner tuns, and a sublime slow duet with Bain.