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Review: Celtic Connections Opening Concert, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Four stars

At times it had the drawbacks of a sampler album, offering tasters of what is to come, but Herald Angel winner Duncan Chisholm showed the great strength of the best gigs at Celtic Connections when the fiddler's opening set demonstrated the intimacy that the best traditional music can create in a big hall.

That trick was repeated throughout the evening, particularly when Phil Cunningham joined fellow box player Yves Lambert's trio for a Quebecois waltz in the second half. It was the bigger stage outfits, like Malawi's Peter Mawanga and Boston's Joy Kills Sorrow, who fared less well in their brief time slot, even if the latter included some superb playing from the professor of banjo at the city's esteemed Berklee college. A fruitful middle ground was found in an unscheduled appearance by Beth Neilsen Chapman. in the company of the Scottish band on her new Uncovered album and Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, with many of the same faces.

But the event of the night was the collaboration between Fowlis and violinist Nicola Benedetti, a pairing that is surely the dream ticket for Visit Scotland. Benedetti confessed to nerves, but her fearlessness in putting herself in such a challenging context for which she was not trained should be acknowledged, as readily as the charm and skill with which she pulled it off in the company of skilled bandmates like Chisholm, Aly Bain, and Cunningham. Starting with a pair of Scott Skinner tunes to which she added her own cadenza, her contribution was lovely set, nicely reprised at the end of the night in a duet with Cunningham he'd written for the occasion. Celtic 2014 is off to a fine start.

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