Altan's Sound Is Fresh, Traditional

For better and worse, the Dublin-based Irish folk group Altan appeared Sunday in the elegant surroundings of the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The prim-and-proper atmosphere of Segerstrom Hall left no room for dancing, and even appeared stifling at times. Much of the band's repertoire is loaded with energetic instrumentals that are better suited to the boisterous pubs and dance halls of its homeland.

In any event, it mattered not to Altan, which spent nearly two hours demonstrating why its traditional Celtic music remains so vital and inspiring--wherever it's staged. Drawing from the rich musical heritage of the Gaelic-speaking region of County Donegal, the group played a mixture of heart-wrenching ballads and fast-paced jigs, reels, barn dances and strathspeys with exceptional skill, grace and passion.

Featuring blazing, single-stroke bowing and staccato triplets, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh and Ciaran Tourish's twin fiddling led the instrumental charge, their dazzling solo turns creating both aural and visual pleasures. Mhaonaigh was particularly captivating during an elegy for her late husband, where her tender fiddle work movingly shared her sorrow and longing.

Happy or sad, played slow or fast, Altan's tunes have a fresh-sounding, vibrant quality that, at the same time, holds dear a spirit of traditional purity. That's certainly no easy task, but in the hands of Altan, it's one that's truly accomplished.

* Altan performs Sunday at Veterans Wadsworth Theater, Veterans Administration grounds, Brentwood, 7 p.m. $27-$30. (310) 825-2101.

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