The inspiration for A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, according to host and mastermind Brian O’Donovan, is a traditional family holiday gathering. Between the lighted evergreens, the comfy-looking couches and the old holiday stories read aloud by O’Donovan, the setting is homey indeed. The illusion of snow falling against a starry sky adds to the ambiance. Although, no one ever comes to my kitchen to play reels and drink toddies... I wish they would.
One of the highlights of the program is the presence of Irish dancers. Old styles as well as newer ones are presented. The choreography for “Lindy Hop Hornpipe,” for instance, is less traditional, but matches the tune in playfulness. The dancers are graceful and precise, flitting from the stage like forest nymphs when the music ends.
Irish singer/songwriter Robbie O’Connell lends his comforting voice to several pieces. He’s obviously enjoying himself; the grin never leaves his face as he performs the traditional tune “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake,” an amusing cautionary tale about a well-meaning neighbor.
There is a nice mix of upbeat joy and solemn reverence. The mood flows and changes often, with chipper dance numbers following slower songs. There is obvious rapport among the performers, as well as between the artists and the audience, who are invited to participate in the ensemble numbers.
One of my own favorite Christmas songs, “O Holy Night,” is performed by Karan Casey and the members of Navan. The haunting melody benefits much from Casey’s lilting warble, and the simple musical accompaniment leaves bare the beauty of the tune. Navan shines on their renditions of "Silent Night" and "The First Noel." Their piercing a capella harmonies are hard to forget.
The Celtic theme is infused with a bit of Yiddish flavor during “Shalom Aleichem.” The tune aches with beauty and restraint. The performance features rich clarinet tones expertly coaxed by Billy Novick, as well as Tony McManus’s subtle guitar strumming.
Special features include several bonus songs, as well as backstage footage that confirms the suspicion of camaraderie among the musicians. A Christmas Celtic Sojourn: Live will appeal particularly to lovers of holiday music or Celtic traditions. Music from the program is also available on CD, but the visual elements of the DVD really bring the experience together. The CD is a nice, portable addition to the DVD, but it doesn't let you see the dancers. And you really should see the dancers.