The Columbus Dispatch
Thursday, December 7th, 2000

Talented Irish Tenors deliver genuinely lovely yuletide gift

By Barbara Zuck
Dispatch Senior Critic

Like a Celtic hurricane, the Irish Tenors blew into Columbus for the first time in August, overcoming a capacity Ohio Theatre house with a long list of strong, sometimes windy Irish ballads.

They're back for a different season this week. The popular trio of Ronan Tynan, Finbar Wright and Anthony Kearns appeared before a sold-out Palace Theatre crowd last night with a winning medley of Christmas songs and carols -- plus just a few Irish tunes thrown in for good measure.

Familiarity in this case bred nothing but delight. We all know most of these songs. Indeed, it was difficult at times not to give voice and join in.

What actually was a pleasant change, though, is hearing such a beloved repertoire -- as Wright aptly noted "the most beautiful in the world'' -- sung by powerful, trained voices.

After an orchestral version of Jingle Bells, the tenors came onstage and sang separately and jointly through a heartfelt two-hour program. The annoyingly listless, sloppy orchestra, conducted by Frank McNamara, deserved no Christmas bonus.

But the tenors delivered. If Tynan remains Mr. Personality, the most beloved of the trio and, not coincidentally, the funniest, Wright comes across as the most dignified -- and the most Irish in his manner of singing. The youngster Kearns, still in his late 20s, probably has the best- trained and most beautiful voice, and certainly the finest high range.

Each singer selected tunes that best suited his voice. Tynan's Mary's Boy Child, many years ago popularized by Harry Belafonte in a very different rendition, handled the skips and jumps of that melody in style. Wright proved exceedingly compelling in the old hymn How Great Thou Art, and brought the crowd to its feet. Kearns' Ave Maria (the Gounod version -- the Schubert popped up later) demonstrated quite convincingly why he is sought after in many opera houses; the voice has developed handsomely just since August.

The only thing that bothers me about the Irishers is their consistent use of microphones. Plenty of natural voices have sung in the Palace, the home of Opera/Columbus, and been heard, even over the top of an orchestra. It would be interesting to hear the Irish trio sans mikes. It would certainly make a fairer comparison with other such voices.

Yes, the Three Tenors also use amplification, but the continental singers these days favor only the giant venues -- stadiums, arenas and the like -- where a big enough take at the gate can cover their similarly giant fees. Let's hope the Irish Tenors never become that exclusive. At this point in time, they retain a naturalness and genuineness in their concerts that become harder and harder to discern from the Three Tenors with each passing year.