It was a special night for Celtic Woman at Pechanga Resort & Casino on Thursday.
It was the first time the Irish ensemble had performed with a full orchestra and the first time it had performed Christmas music in front of a live audience.
The two-hour, two-encore concert also happened to be the first show of their “A Christmas Celebration — The Symphony Tour.”
It was the first of three shows being performed at Pechanga this weekend, including concerts at 8 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday.
Celtic Woman Musical Director David Downes asked for patience from the audience Thursday, as it was a night of many “firsts” for the group.
“We’re all a little bit nervous,” said Downes, the evening’s pianist.
Patience proved unnecessary for the pleasant evening filled largely with staid Christmas classics and a handful of Celtic Woman staples warbled by Lisa Kelly, Chloe Agnew and Lisa Lambe.
Celtic violinist Mairead Nesbitt performed in her typical spritely manner alongside the songstresses and the orchestra, conducted by John Page.
“Carol of the Bells,” featuring Nesbitt’s fiddling, “Silent Night,” crooned solely by Agnew, “White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song,” “Little Drummer Boy,” a hymn-like rendition of “Danny Boy” and “O Holy Night” were some of the selections chosen for the refined, classy first half of the show.
Lambe’s virtually a capella opening of “Away in a Manager” proved especially moving.
A 19-minute intermission separated what was a stronger first half — thanks to a slew of standard, albeit somber, Christmas classics — from a less structured second half dotted with some notable favorites: Agnew’s crystalline vocals singing “Ave Maria” and all four performing Celtic Woman crowd favorite, “You Raise Me Up.”
Like “Ave Maria,” the second half featured more epic numbers, like a powerful rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful” performed by all four Celtic Woman members.
It would have been nice to hear more robust numbers like “O Come,” as well as more lighthearted, contemporary pieces like “Let It Snow” — the second-to-last encore number. The three sopranos broke from their statuesque poses and got into the fun-loving spirit of Christmas.
The piece was followed with the equally enjoyable, uptempo “Spanish Lady.” The refreshing final two numbers revealed that the show may have benefited from similarly boisterous Christmas tunes occasionally punctuating the classics-filled set list.
Nesbitt’s more Celtic-rooted, solo instrumental numbers did, however, help stimulate a different pulse throughout the evening.
What was especially nice during Thursday’s concert was seeing the women in a more intimate setting at Pechanga.
It was likely many individuals’ first time seeing the singers live and not on their TV’s for a public television special.
The lack of pomp and circumstance seemed to allow the vocalists a stage on which to be a little freer with their words and audience interaction, which was a nice change to their typically ultra-polished concerts.
This stage wasn’t too big where Kelly’s winks, Agnew’s humble shoulder shrugs and Lambe’s grins couldn’t be seen.
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