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Posted at 12:32 AM ET, 12/ 6/2010

In performance: Celtic Christmas

By Cecelia Porter

Edited to add: In Monday's Washington Post: Barnes & Hampton Celtic Consort, by Cecelia Porter (scroll down for story).

The ancient Celtic tribes roamed far and wide, leaving their traces in languages and music from the British Isles and the Iberian peninsula to Central Europe and Asia Minor. On Saturday, the Barnes and Hampton Celtic Consort focused on the British and Irish segments of Celtic musical culture, an inheritance gradually blended with elements of other ancient societies. The ensemble’s engaging, reflective afternoon marked the 25th anniversary of Dumbarton Concerts’ annual Celtic Christmas event at Dumbarton Church in Georgetown.

Alternating on a bevy of instruments--some quite ancient in lineage--the consort performed a broad sampling of Christmas songs and dances, all of them marked by continually pulsing rhythms and touches of wit. (And it was easy to recognize rhythmic and melodic styles eventually passed down to Appalachian musicians.) There was the wassail-filled dance-song, “The Abbott’s Bromley Horn Dance,” depicting a traditional drunken Christmas brawl. Other arrangements dealt with sacred Christmas subjects, like the hushed “Blessed Be That Maid Marie.”

The wide assortment of music was matched by continually changing combinations of instruments, some little known today. Linn Barnes explained how he strapped himself into the uilleann pipes (an Irish bagpipe). He also played a “lutolin”: a hybrid mandolin-lute fusion that he invented. Allison Hampton soloed on the Celtic harp and Joseph Cunliffe played everything from a tiny sopranino recorder and high-pitched whistles to a resonant bass sax. Steve Bloom joined in with a bodhran (an Irish frame drum), tambour (a cylindrical two-headed drum) and cymbals. WETA’s Robert Aubry Davis spiced up the Yuletide mood with jauntily read narratives and poems depicting wintry landscapes of long ago.

The concert repeats on Saturday and Sunday.

--Cecelia Porter

By Cecelia Porter  | December 6, 2010; 12:32 AM ET
Categories:  Washington, local reviews  
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Next: In performance: Turtle Island Quartet at 25

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