It may still be three weeks until St. Patrick's Day, but any performance by the Chieftains is a celebration of the emerald glow of Irish culture.
The installment of the veteran ensemble that arrived on stage at Disney Hall on Thursday night, however, had been pared in half, with founder and piper Paddy Moloney and bodhran drummer Kevin Conneff the only regular members on hand. Moloney apologized for the absence of flutist Matt Molloy and fiddler Sean Keane, both out because of family illnesses, but a talented group of guest artists more than filled the gap.
Appropriately, the two full-time Chieftains were featured up front: Moloney first with a spotlighted solo on "Drops of Brandy," setting the stage for the combination of Celtic lyricism and rhythm that was to follow. Next up, Con- neff sang an unaccompanied ballad based on the familiar Irish theme describing the poignancy and the perils of emigration.
From that point on, the evening became a showcase for the guests. Fiddlers Jon Pilatzke and Maureen Fahy, keyboardist Brian McAlpine, guitarist Jonny Hardie and harpist Triona Marshall provided stirring collective sounds, responding superbly to Moloney's enthusiastic leadership.
Pilatzke and Fahy also offered atmospheric solos, enhanced by their equally adept dancing, with Fahy kicking off her high heels to properly get into a step-dancing groove. Pilatzke, adding a high-flying Fred Astaire-Gene Kelly style, blended tap and a step-dancing routine with his dancer brother, Nathan Pilatzke. Slipping on and off stage from time to time, Cara Butler added her own adroit dancing to the terpsichorean mix.
Even more atmosphere was provided by the soaring Scottish vocals of Alyth McCormack, who was introduced by a bagpiper in full regalia, and the equally touching, sweetly expressed rendering of "Foggy Dew" by Carmel Conway.
Finally, on this evening in which Moloney and the truncated version of the Chieftains served primarily as the framework for a display of young Celtic talent, there was a kind of stirring jam session in which everyone had a chance to shine. Something like an amiable St. Patty's Saturday night in the back room of the White Horse Tavern.