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Fiddling virtuoso brings audience to its feet

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Natalie MacMaster plays again tonight and Sunday at the Centennial Concert Hall.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Natalie MacMaster plays again tonight and Sunday at the Centennial Concert Hall. Photo Store

Cape Breton's pride Natalie MacMaster brought joy to the world Friday with an evening of red-hot fiddling tunes, as featured guest artist for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's latest Pops concert.

The first of three weekend concerts, led by WSO's ebullient resident conductor Julian Pellicano, also showcased her two touring bandmates: pianist Mac Morin -- who also performs a mean step dance -- as well as drummer Eric Breton.

Billed in the program simply as "fiddler extraordinaire," Canada's musical icon -- and soon-to-be mother of six -- has garnered multiple prestigious awards and accolades, including being named to the Order of Canada in 2006 for her dazzling fiddle chops.

After the orchestra first set the stage with a sprightly The Rakes of Mallow from Irish Suite, MacMaster roared onto the stage with Tunes a Plenty, an infectious romp that immediately let the crowd know it was in for one hootenanny of a good time. MacMaster radiates joie de vivre not only when she plays but also during her humourous, down-home anecdotes about fiddling ancestors and life growing up in Nova Scotia, a.k.a. New Scotland. Even the WSO musicians were grinning ear to ear.

Early into the 12-tune evening came MacMaster's most requested number over the years: If Ever You Were Mine from Fit as a Fiddle, one of her 11 CDs. The lilting ballad provided the first opportunity to hear MacMaster's lyrical bowing and graceful ornamentation, with her warm tonal colours washing over the ear. A second chance came later with the flowing, unabashedly sentimental Anniversary Waltz in the second half of the evening. Yes, the crackerjack performer with kilowatt energy can hoot and holler with the best of them, but she also clearly possesses the soul of a poet.

The fascinating "compare-and-contrast" duet Devil's Dream paired MacMaster with concertmaster Gwen Hoebig -- who easily held her own against the Cape Breton musician while proving her own fiddling, foot-stomping prowess.

O'Carolan's Concerto showcased MacMaster's virtuosic technique with her fiddle part growing in complexity with each successive verse.

The mixed generation crowd was also treated to a traditional medley of jigs, strathspeys and reels with Stars on the Hill. It's humbling to realize its stately opening march, dating back 300 years, was written during the time of baroque composers Handel and Bach.

The pastiche work began quietly, until its slow burn finally ignited into an explosion of energy.

As expected, the audience leaped to its feet in a rousing standing ovation -- unwilling to let their dynamic fiddling hero leave the stage.

The concert repeats tonight, 8 p.m. with a Sunday matinee, 2 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.

holly.harris@shaw.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2013 A35

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