"Celtic Woman"


From the folks who brought us "Riverdance" -- well, one of them, anyway -- comes Celtic Woman, an ensemble that favors orchestral pop so lushly arranged that it all but sweeps you off your feet.

"Riverdance" musical director David Downes has helped fashion a sonic spectacle, a lavishly produced voice and orchestra collaboration that features four gifted Irish vocalists -- Chloe Agnew, Lisa Kelly, Meav Ni Mhaolchatha and Orla Fallon, who also plays the harp -- plus Irish fiddler Mairead Nesbitt. Each of the singers possesses a distinctive voice, though none more soulful than Fallon's soprano.

Downes's often rousing arrangements are mostly performed by the Irish Film Orchestra on Celtic Woman's self-titled CD. The album is chockablock with both traditional refrains ("Danny Boy" and "She Moved Thru the Fair") and contemporary songs (Clannad's "Harry's Game," Enya's "Orinoco Flow" and "May It Be," from "The Lord of the Rings"). Celtic Woman has proved ready for PBS prime time, with a recent 90-minute special to its credit, and there isn't a performance here that's likely to disappoint the ensemble's core audience.

But make no mistake: A lot of Irish music fans who flock to area venues whenever, say, the Chieftains, Atlan or Mary Black come to town will find the sheer sonic scale of this project off-putting -- to say nothing of its obvious commercial ambitions. The phrase "over-the top" doesn't do justice to the album's longest and loudest lull, a reprise of the Josh Groban hit "You Raise Me Up." On the other hand, it's hard to imagine the same crowd not warming up to Nesbitt's reeling fiddle work on the pared-down arrangement of "The Butterfly" -- an interlude that couldn't be more refreshing.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Monday at Wolf Trap.