POP MUSIC REVIEW : World Tour--With Strings Attached
South Orange County may not rival Lillehammer as a hub of cultural diversity, but you never would have known it Monday during folk harpist Kim Robertson’s delightfully cosmopolitan concert at Shade Tree Stringed Instruments.
Throughout a nearly two-hour performance before a full house, her Celtic harp held within its strings and wood the diverse musical offerings of the human race.
Born in Wisconsin and based in Minnesota, Robertson has engaged in a variety of performing, recording and teaching projects during her 12-year career. Her work not only spans 18 albums (including collections and collaborations), but she has also published seven volumes of harp arrangements, released two instructional videos, and routinely presents workshops and retreats emphasizing the harp’s healing powers.
Musically, her vast repertoire includes traditional Celtic folk, classical, Renaissance and medieval works as well as original compositions, which, since her 1991 album “Angels in Disguise,” feature her vocals as well as her harp.
As she walked onto the Shade Tree stage, Robertson looked elegant in a long brown dress and gold-and-black vest. Appearing a little stiff, she politely greeted the audience and began her presentation with the traditional Irish tune “Merilee Kissed the Quaker.” She soon warmed to the crowd, chatting and welcoming them to “Shade Tree--the Carnegie Hall of Orange County.”
Robertson’s two solo sets took us around the globe, as she presented several Irish and Scottish selections, a Latin piece (“Luna de Miere”), an original composition in French (“Mon Ami”), a medley of American folk tunes and a classic lullaby (“Tender Shepherd”). Her song introductions and quips (“I brought two harps so I could have two harps out of tune”) became more natural-sounding and brought a welcome spontaneity and personality to the show.
Midway through the first set, she followed Henry Purcell’s “Hornpipe” with her strongest, most emotional song of the evening. Inspired by an article she read in National Geographic, her African-based “Dance of Wadabe” is a sensual, passionate composition filled with complex, shifting rhythms. This solo instrumental needed no words to convey the mystery and excitement of romantic pursuit in a faraway land.
Other highlights included an energetic, spunky rendering of “Butterfly Jig,” a sing-along to the Scottish ballad “Wild Mountain Thyme” and another Robertson original titled “Oopla,” which featured some swirling, cascading notes that threatened to dance right off of the harp strings.
Robertson’s incredible technique was evident early in the Shade Tree program. During 17th-Century Irish composer O’Carolan’s “Lord Galloway’s Lamentation,” she plucked the strings gently one moment, aggressively the next. Her timely chord progressions reflected the nuances of tone and mood, where just one note can carry so much narrative or emotional meaning.
The show’s only fault was its uneven pacing. Robertson’s presentation lacked momentum, never building to a climax. Near the concert’s closing, it appeared a peak was about to materialize when she followed an upbeat medley with “Maya,” one of her outstanding originals. But, for some reason, it fell surprisingly flat.
If this rich sampling of Robertson’s work didn’t have quite all the cultural diversity of the Winter Olympics, the concert nevertheless brought some of the world’s sweetest music to Laguna Niguel.