An insistent rain over the Strathmore Mansion lawn on Thursday brought flutist Chris Norman and his crossover Celtic Ensemble inside to ply their charming and energetic trade. In the central hall, a relaxed audience sat around, on the floor, on the steps, some standing, some in the lawn chairs they had brought along, happy to sing along when asked.
Norman plays a variety of sweet-voiced wooden flutes and a small set of uilleann bagpipes with a sound scaled more for dancing than parading. James Blachly on the double bass, guitarist Andy Thurston and percussionist Simeon Darley-Chapin collaborated with him in a program of dances and drinking songs, mostly from Maritime Canada and some from the British Isles but almost all with a strong flavor of Irish or Scottish traditional good humor and rhythmic exuberance. The exceptions occurred in a set of Acadian derivatives of old Norman dances, which sounded remarkably like the noels used in Charpentier's "Messe de Minuit," and in a lovely, bluesy old English flute solo.
This ensemble keeps its touch light (and blessedly unamplified). It slides easily and naturally between traditional and adventurous sounds. Its scholarship has unearthed a repertoire varied enough to make a full program interesting, and its informality masks performances of astonishing virtuosity. It's no wonder that the ensemble has an avid following.
-- Joan Reinthaler