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Sellersville Theater


Review: Moya Brennan and Cormac De Barra at the Sellersville Theater

Cormac De Barra and Moya Brennan

Cormac De Barra and Moya Brennan

The last time Moya Brennan appeared in concert at Sellersville Theater, there was a frog in her throat the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. In short: She was not in good voice, and she canceled all concerts on the tour after that.

Appearing in concert this past Saturday night, she admitted, she felt bad about that concert, and she greatly appreciated the audience’s forbearance at the time.

No vocal amphibians appeared to sabotage the act Saturday night. In fact, Brennan’s performance was a spot-on demonstration of how wondrously well the voice can continue to serve a singer when well tended, even after 40 years.

Brennan’s voice is truly one of a kind, a blend of airy delicacy and barely restrained power, with resonant lows and tremulous, silvery highs. Her vocal range seems to have lost nothing at either end.

Brennan was joined in the performance by harper Cormac De Barra, one of Ireland’s most acclaimed performers on the instrument, with whom she released  choice little CD, “Voices & Harps,” in June. Accompanying the two was Brennan’s 19-year-old daughter Aisling Jarvis, playing guitar and whistle and singing harmony.

Brennan and De Barra set the tone for the night with the traditional Irish folk standard “She Moved Through the Fair,” the first track off “Voices & Harps.” Brennan shimmering high notes were a perfect complement to the soft strings of the harp, masterfully played by De Barra. (Brennan occasional joined in on a harp of her own.)

In many ways, this was a very different Moya Brennan than the Maire Brennan who fronted for the pioneering Irish band Clannad. Indeed, the trio performed several old Clannad tunes, including “Dúlamán,” from the 1976 Clannad album of the same name, “Theme From Harry’s Game,” a tune released by the band in 1982, and the encore “The Two Sisters,” from the 1975 Clannad album “Clannad 2” and the 1998 “An Díolaim (The Collection).” Several tunes from Brennan’s long solo career also made an appearance: “Against the Wind,” Brennan’s first solo single, released in 1992, as well as “Tapestry” and “I Will Find You” from Brennan’s 2006 recording “Signature.”

In this concert, all the old tunes were stripped down to their bare, acoustic essentials, absent the reverberating multi-layered harmonies, drums and synthesizers. It was like being re-introduced to old friends who had mellowed with age and yet have held up surprisingly well. Brennan acknowledged as much. Speaking of “Harry’s Game,” she said, “If you can sing a song and it can stand up to any style, then it’s a good song.”

So it went through the night… a blend of old Clannad and Brennan’s solo hits, coupled with several tunes from “Harps & Voices,” including “My Match Is a Makin’,” “An Seanduine Dóite/The Burnt-Out Old Man,” and “Carolan’s Concerto.”

On the latter, De Barra showed why, as Brennan insisted, he is possibly the best harper in all of Ireland. The “Concerto” is a complex old tune in the Baroque style, and it takes a gifted hand to play it with expression, bringing forth all its subtle beauty. DeBarra accompanied Brennan on harp all the night, but the word “accompanied” doesn’t really do him credit. The performance was a marriage of equals. De Barra also has an expressive tenor voice, his harmonies a strong counterpoint to Brennan’s breathier vocals.

De Barra showed off his stuff on another Carolan standard, “Miss McDermott,” paired with a perky piece, written by De Barra, called “Hobnobs”—after the chocolate biscuits he and Brennan munched in the studio while recording their CD.

And let’s give a round of well-deserved applause to Brennan’s daughter Aisling, a budding guitarist whose light, bright harmonies proved a lovely addition.

Let there be no doubt: Brennan’s Sellersville fans got their money’s worth this time around.