Celtic Connections review: Auld Lang Syne, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

The concert hall’s main auditorium was packed, unsurprisingly, for this warm-hearted Burns Night celebration, being broadcast to a’ the airts, as MC Jamie MacDougall reminded us, introducing the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John Ashton Thomas, a sterling folk house band including festival director Donald Shaw on keyboards and John McCusker on fiddle and, of course, a string of notable singers.

Karen Mathieson

Auld Lang Syne, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****  

Karen Matheson’s opening set demonstrated both the strengths and weaknesses of orchestral accompaniment for traditional song, with the peerless melody of Ca’ the Yowes fine over limpid strings but overshadowed a little by the brassier passages. On the other hand, in Lassie Wi’ the Lint White Locks, the lovely, “artless” (to use Burn’s own term) melody shone with minimal accompaniment, while she also gave a lovely, lilting account of Hey Ho My Johnny Lad.

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Northern Irish piper and singer Jarlath Henderson impressed both instrumentally – including a keening, self-composed air on uilleann pipes, couched effectively within the orchestration – and vocally, with the much-loved Westlin’ Winds and particularly in a sterling Green Grow the Rashes, regardless of a preposterous yarn from MC MacDougall about a supposed link between “Green Grow” and “Gringo”, via the Alamo …

Eddi Reader has made orchestral settings of the Burns canon very much her own in recent years, and while her exuberance can verge on the OTT – her Jamie Come Try Me got a bit trilly – she sings utterly from the heart, as in old favourites My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose and Ae Fond Kiss, both of which were suffused with feeling, while that old chestnut Charlie Is My Darling became a swingy knees-up – orchestra, audience and all.

A welcome North-East presence was that of Shona Donaldson from Huntly, whose ballad-schooled voice seemed a bit thirled to the accompaniment in The Highland Widow’s Lament. She came into her own later, however, with The Slave’s Lament, the orchestra adding dramatic emphasis, and in a trio of short, pithy Burns songs, with Robin Shure in Hairst sandwiched between the jig-time of Roarin’ Willie and Hey Ca’ Thru’, which she delivered unaccompanied, and with smeddum.

Following a rumbustious finale from Reader and orchestra in You’re Welcome Willie Stewart, the whole ensemble, vocal and instrumental, plus audience, joined for the obligatory Auld Lang Syne – the slow, dignified version rather than a hand-holding Celtic can-can. Jim Gilchrist