Strung Theories

Celtic Fiddle Festival

At the Marjorie Luke Theatre, Thursday, November 2.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

As we heard from Gilles Apap, our area’s resident style-hopping virtuoso and increasingly world-renowned fiddler/violinist, the promotion for last Thursday’s Celtic fiddling feast was a bit misleading. Apap figured heavily in the picture, but he was, in fact, just a special guest for a pre-existing project, the all-star Celtic Fiddle Festival. At the heart of the project was veteran Irish fiddler Kevin Burke, joined by fiddlers Christian Lemaître from Brittany (west of the Eiffel Tower) and André Brunet from Epiphany, Quebec, and trusty guitarist Ged Foley.

Into this Celtic/folk-style fiddling trust entered Apap, who got the call to join the tour from Burke — one of his fiddling heroes. Apap showed, as is his wont, that he can blend in virtually anywhere he feels and hears the music. By the time Apap showed up, opening the second set of this fascinating three-hour fiddle encounter, he offered a refreshing palate-cleanser with doses of stylized — even Celtic-flavored — classical works by Bach and Ysaye, with an old-time jig for good folky measure.

Before and after Apap’s interlude, each fiddler demonstrated musical flavors from his own corner of the Celtic Diaspora, and proved his musical mettle. Brunet added extra musical firepower with his pumping, percussive footwork. But Burke seemed like the true anchor here, with a solid playing and rhythmic impetus from the bones and heart.

In honor of the late Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham, a former member of the group who died of a heart attack, the crew played a pair of his tunes, including the tipsy “Pernod Waltz.” During a final, furious medley, each fiddler took a turn strutting his personal stuff in between having goes at the main melody. For Apap’s solo bit, he dove into the skittering, dizzy depths of that classic Irish favorite, “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

Beyond the musical kinship, Apap’s impish humor and loose-cannon charisma — which has set him apart in classical circles — fit right in with these winkingly witty chaps. Between songs, they joked, spun yarns, and spoke of people and places from whence the music came. Those aspects of the loam and the lineage are important to Celtic tradition. This music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Nor does it create one, as Thursday’s warm, infectious evening proved in ample portions.

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