An early entry to the holiday music season, the Dumbarton Concert Series' "Celtic Christmas" presented the harmonies of the Barnes & Hampton Celtic Consort Saturday at Dumbarton Church in Georgetown. The gently plucked melodies summoned images of holidays past, especially when WETA-FM music critic Robert Aubry Davis spun an audible illusion by reading Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales" and Patrick Kavanagh's "My Father Played the Melodian." The audience could almost see the rotund Welsh uncles snoozing before the fire and the child's father playing the accordion under cold starlight, busking for coins.
The concert, now in its 15th year, is a beloved Washington tradition, and if some of the songs are the same from year to year, perhaps that is part of the draw for families who return annually.
Guitarist Linn Barnes and harpist Allison Hampton, along with flutist Joseph Cunliffe and percussionist Steve Bloom, played two Galician jigs with counterpoint lines in a minor key. Another nod to Celtic Spain was an alborado, which celebrates the rising sun after a night of feasting or the return of the sun after the midwinter solstice, demonstrated in cascades of strings accented with a tinkling triangle.
Barnes harnessed himself into uillean pipes (which are played by a seated musician who pumps the bellows with an elbow), developed by the Irish in the early 18th century when the British executed marching pipers whose rousing music, they claimed, incited rebellion. The pipes were equally stirring Saturday, especially in the medley of country tunes Barnes culled from the Willie Clancy Festival in County Clare last summer.
The "Christmas Suite" of three carols featured Cunliffe's flute over Hampton's smooth harp arpeggios and inventive percussion touches by Bloom. The concert concluded with a tribute to jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd (who died last week)--"The Wind That Shakes the Barley," which the group played with precision and spirit.
"Celtic Christmas" will also be performed Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 3:30 and 8 p.m.