Celtic Connections

Rachel Sermanni & Jarlath Henderson with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE SCOTTISH Chamber Orchestra currently advertises its season concerts in Glasgow under the generic banner “Friday Nights at the City Halls” and although this was not one of its own gigs, it happened to slot perfectly under the title. The music of both these performers was also well-suited to the addition of their skills, but in very different ways.

If Rachel Sermanni seemed a little over-whelmed at the start, she quickly acknowledged her suspicion that the event was a never-to-be-repeated treat. In fact it was her tunes, which often owe more to musical theatre and cabaret than traditional music, than seemed most bolstered by the arrangements of them by John Ashton Thomas and Este Visser. This was a large SCO, conducted by Paul Campbell, including a bass clarinet, contra-bassoon and tuba, and Ashton Thomas in particular made full use of the lower-register instruments, while it is also at the bottom of her range that Sermanni’s singing is most affecting.

Jarlath Henderson is still best known for his skill on small pipes and whistle, but the Northern Irishman’s voice is something special, and his regular – but not often enough convened – band with Hamish Napier, Innes Watson, Andrea Gobbi and Duncan Lyall give it the perfect context. So fully realised are the arrangements of the tunes from the Hearts Broken, Heads Turned album that the SCO was more the icing on the cake here. There was also a great deal more experience on stage, as Henderson has already road-tested the orchestral show in Ulster and at the BBC Proms. In a move towards the full David Byrne experience, one of his repertoire of murder ballads was also performed by seven dancers from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, choreographed by Scottish Ballet’s Jamiel Laurence.

It was, of course, Burns Night, and the evening was bracketed by acknowledgement of that, with Sermanni opening proceedings with a solo Flow Gently Sweet Afton, and the night ending with an encore duet of Ae Fond Kiss on which she and Henderson swapped lead and harmony lines with skill and sensitivity, and not a little daring.