Natalie MacMaster strode on stage Saturday night with the confident gait of a performer accustomed to commanding a venue -- even one as large as the Hollywood Bowl. And she proceeded to do precisely that as the guest performer in a program appropriately titled "The Highland Fling: A Celtic Celebration."
In recent, the Cape Breton-based violinist (she prefers "fiddler") has become one of the principal exponents of the traditional music of the Canadian Atlantic Coast, while crossing over comfortably to other areas in recordings with the likes of Alison Krauss, Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer. This time, she stayed fairly close to tradition with a spirited collection of reels and jigs, accompanied by her own group, as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Bramwell Tovey.
Although her violin work was lively and articulate, enhanced by the intricate melodic ornamentation typical of the Celtic fiddle style, it was MacMaster's overall presentation that was most impactful. Constantly moving, continuing to play as she broke into a spirited step dance at a climactic moment, she offered a complete package of audio and visual delights.
Her version of "The Anniversary Waltz" in a Celtic transformation with the Philharmonic was both unexpected and entrancing. And her energetic duet with concertmaster Alexander Treger combined Bach with a traditional hornpipe, "The Devil's Dream."
The program opened with the orchestra, under Tovey's direction, performing music with Celtic overtones. Mendelssohn's "Hebrides Overture" (also known as "Fingal's Cave"), for all its maritime qualities -- he composed it while visiting Scotland's Hebrides Islands -- still sounds more European than Celtic. Peter Maxwell Davies' "An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise" gave the Philharmonic an opportunity to have fun with its depiction of a whisky-drenched wedding party and its early-morning alcoholic aftermath.
Tovey's spontaneous commentaries, filled with wit and whimsy, were an enormous asset -- as they could surely be to future Hollywood Bowl concerts.