The Anglo-Celtic folk revival that brought to prominence such groups as Fairport Convention 15 years ago was also a boon to Alan Stivell, the Breton harpist who performed at the University of Maryland last night. That revival has since lost much of its momentum, but Stivell's mastery of the Celtic harp is no less impressive today, nor has his entrancing and evocative repertoire lost any of its charm.
Accompanied by a fiddler and a guitarist, Stivell divided his time between folk ballads rooted in Breton, Irish, Scottish and Welsh traditions, many of them centuries old, and lively jigs and reels that drew an immediate response from the crowd.
The ballads were often graced by the Celtic harps' light, shimmering arpeggios, pure, crystalline tones that fell ever so gently into place. And although some of these tunes were sung by Stivell in an indecipherable Breton dialect, there was no mistaking the lingering beauty of the melodies.
By contrast, the second half of the concert, in which fiddle, guitar, tin whistle and even bagpipes played a more prominent role, celebrated past traditions with dancing refrains, crisp rhythms and instrumental flair. Even his flight-damaged harp--one that required much tuning--couldn't prevent Stivell and friends from recreating some of the wondrous textures found on his recordings.