If you needed a dose of Christmas spirit, you were in the right place Sunday night at Centennial Hall.
The hall was packed with folks mostly dressed in their Sunday best, some even donning holiday bling in the form of red sweaters festooned with Christmas trees and ribbons. A strand of garland stretched the length of the stage, twinkling with white lights. Those same white lights glistened from a pair of Christmas trees framing the Centennial Hall stage.
Tucson was among a baker’s dozen lucky American cities included in Celtic Woman’s 2012 “Christmas Celebration Symphony Tour,” a two-hour concert that played out more like a fireside sing-along. (Pat yourself on the back, Tucson; you sounded pretty wonderful on “Green The Whole Year 'Round .”) The concert mined the quartet’s just released album “Home For Christmas” as well as a couple non-holiday songs including the contemporary Christian pop song “You Raise Me Up” and the ubiquitous Irish folk song “Danny Boy.” (I’m sure it is written somewhere that you can’t have an Irish concert without a sobering round of “Danny Boy.”)
Celtic Woman pulled out a Christmas greatest hits songbook Sunday night — from “O Holy Night” to “Silent Night”; “White Christmas” to “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”; “Gloria in excelsis Deo” to “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Each was arranged with a little contemporary kick, ever so subtle, by the 8-year-old ensemble’s founding music director and arranger David Downes. He cast “Silent Night,” sung by Susan McFadden accompanied by founding fiddler Máiréad Nesbitt, as a bilingual exercise — mixing English and Gaelic. He infused a sobering hue to “Old Lang Syne,” which founding soprano Chloë Agnew reminded us was based on Scotsman Robert Burns 1788 poem; and turned “Let It Snow” into a jazzy romp that brought the soldout crowd to its feet in a standing ovation at the end of the night.
Those classic carols were infused with Irish accents courtesy Tommy Martin’s pipes and Nesbitt’s fiddle. The women’s voices ran the gamut of Agnew’s near classical arch to Lambe’s pop-infused, almost American country sound.
The evening’s biggest surprise was the orchestra, 49 Tucson musicians, many of them moonlighting from the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. It’s unknown how much rehearsing this ensemble did before Sunday, but conductor John Page elicited a performance that sounded like this group had supported Celtic Woman for months, not hours. They were terrific, starting with the opening work, a medley of “Polar Express” songs including the gorgeous theme by renown film composer Alan Silvestri, to the jazz jump of the finale.