IN THE CREATION of the genre he calls "Celtic rock" Alan Stivell had a very good idea. Its realization on stage left something to be desired; nevertheless, the effect was startling.
Stivell and his group translated the essence of ancient Celtic folk ballads and medieval dances into a modern framework. The heavy alternate-measure syncopation and simple repeating melodies lost none of their traditional mournful quality when interpreted on electric guitar and percussion. What the music gained in the switch was familiarity. His extended solos on the Irish harp and flute were beautiful and exotic: When placed against a background of more recognizable notes from organ and guitar, the unfamiliar harmonies were softened and became more accessible.
The technical expertise of each member of the group was remarkably evident. Their stage presence, however, belied their virtuosity. The intervals between songs were filled with too much shuffling of feet, too many nervous jokes, and too little explanation of the origin and meaning of each song, with its Welsh or Irish or Breton lyrics. The program was musically weak only when the group moved from the folk-rock format to an attempt at hard rock. The attempt was shrill and unpleasant.
Folk music depends on change; it becomes alive through its transitions. Joining the music of two cultures has in this case produced a lively mix: Stivell has come up with a form worth attention on our part and perfection on his.