Rich Tapestry of Fiddle Sounds Derives From Three Countries

WHEN Celtic fiddlers Kevin Burke, Johnny Cunningham, and Christian Lemaitre play together, the pace can be so fast that their bows seem to zip across the strings at lightning speed.

The three fiddlers make up the Celtic Fiddle Festival. They're not a group, but individual musicians who have toured the United States twice since 1992 and recently released a CD featuring live recordings from their first tour.

In Somerville, Mass., winding down their tour recently, they wowed the audience with quick-step jigs and reels as well as beautiful, soulful melodies.

Each fiddler hails from a different country and thus brings a distinct fiddling style to the trio.

First to play was Christian Lemaitre, who began his career with the Paris-based group Fiddle Dee Dee. Lemaitre, who comes from Brittany in northwestern France, is a master of Breton traditional dance music. His lyrical style conjured up images of medieval fairs, peasants, lords, and ladies.

Johnny Cunningham, from Portobello, Scotland, is a fiddle wizard. On several Shetland tunes, his bow flew over the strings so fast he was amazing to hear and watch. He also played a couple of gorgeous slow airs.

Kevin Burke, from Ireland, specializes in the Sligo method - an intricately ornamented technique that comes from County Sligo. His Irish reels were silky smooth but each note was crisp and clear. He has played with the Bothy Band, Christy Moore, Michael O'Domhnaill, and is currently a member of Patrick Street and Open House.

Talented guitarist Soig Siberil, also from Brittany, accompanied the trio on this tour (Guitarist John McGann supported the first tour and is recorded on the CD).

EACH musician played solo and then performed together in what did indeed sound like a festival of fiddles. Their CD, produced by Green Linnet Records Inc., is an all-instrumental album with such tunes as ``Mist Covered Mountains of Home,'' ``Cutting Bracken Brisk Bob Laird of Drumblair,'' and ``Suite de Loudeac.'' It includes many of the dance tunes they played together during the concert.

The Celtic Fiddle Festival's first tour in 1992 was so popular with American audiences that the musicians decided to bring it back this year. Part of the reason for its success, according to Burke, was that it concentrated on Celtic music. ``It wasn't like going to hear a Scottish group, or an Irish singer or band,'' he says. ``It was focusing on the violin, which is used in a lot of different types of music, and I think a lot of people came who might not particularly have had an interest in Irish music or Scottish music or Breton music.

``People in America for a long time have had the idea that traditional music in general is rather quaint, and it's nice but not important really,'' he continues. ``By bringing it to a wider audience, people are beginning to understand that it has all the qualities that any other form of music has.''

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