One of the miracles of the season is that concerts may attain "Christmas concert" status just by being performed in December (look at Handel's "Messiah," as splendid an Easter piece as there ever was). The "Celtic Christmas" program that the Barnes & Hampton Celtic Consort brought as their offering to Dumbarton Church in Georgetown over the weekend -- its 25th-anniversary Christmas program in the Dumbarton Concert Series -- is a good example. It was delightful. It was low-key and companionable. It was played with warmth and good feeling. It drew a family audience and it was full of good cheer and a dollop or two of nostalgia. In short, it felt like a Christmas concert (and the white stuff on the ground outside didn't hurt either).
And what was the program? Well, it started with a jig and a saltarello, a 16th-century popular dance form. There were pieces from early America, one called "Liberty" and the touching "Shady Grove"; a suite of American blues tunes that included "Cocaine and "Freight Train"; a set of wonderfully soulful Irish melodies played on the uillean pipes and a gorgeous rendition of the Irish song "The Snowy Breasted Pearl" on the Celtic harp. A piece called "Merrily Kissed the Quaker's Wife" ended the program. In short, had it been May, all of this might have felt more like the accompaniment to an evening of pub-hopping.
There were, to be sure, some overtly Christmasy things: a small group of carols near the end and selections of Christmas poems, read with restraint and affection by Robert Aubry Davis, scattered throughout the program.
Linn Barnes, who plays lute, guitar, mandolin, banjo and the pipes, presided with a genial and gracious sense of humor.
Allison Hampton, on the guitar, harp and strummed dulcimer, added the peculiarly Celtic tone to the ensemble. Joseph Cunliffe played a whole tableful of flutes, whistles and recorders (and perhaps at times might have been a little more assertive), and Steve Bloom handled the bells, drums (including the Irish bodhran) and other assorted noisemakers with considerable delicacy.
The concert will be repeated at Dumbarton on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
-- Joan Reinthaler