At 73, Irish flutist James Galway still likes to be thought of as “a bit of a lad,” not like those other stuffy classical musicians who roam the musical world. He began his program with the Irish Chamber Orchestra at the George Mason Center for the Arts on Saturday with comments about the two Irish composers on the program and with digs at the British empire and its relations, past and present, with Ireland. Then, as if just remembering himself, he reminded the audience that, as Sir James, he was probably part of the establishment he was decrying.
Nevertheless, he is, to the flute, what Pablo Casals was to the cello and Andres Segovia to the guitar — the name everyone knows — and he puts on a great show, not just musically and technically, but also as an entertainer. He danced gracefully through the Mozart D Major Flute Concerto (originally for oboe), the luscious tone he gets from his shiny gold instrument rising easily over the small orchestra in the delicate arabesques and curlicues of the outer movements and in the long legato lines of the Andante (although, to my ears, his flute was tuned just on the high side of the pitch). He romped happily through the Irish tunes that inspired Hamilton Harty’s “In Ireland,” and then he and his wife, Lady Jeanne Galway, another splendid flutist, teamed up on “Carolan Variations,” a nicely crafted work by Philip Hammond, playing with a beautifully coordinated ensemble in which even their vibratos synchronized.
For encores preceding the intermission, Galway tossed off a movement from a Mozart piano sonata, “Jingle Bells” for “the little girl in the front row” (that woke up the children near me in the audience), an Irish jig and, with his wife, a dance movement from the Bach Suite No 2. The applause was huge.
After intermission the orchestra, with JoAnn Falletta at the helm, returned with a performance of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony No. 41 that struggled with the problems that had plagued the orchestra throughout, the absence of a common understanding of how the music should be shaped. Phrase endings had little character. Rhythms had either no outlines (in the symphony’s first movement) or no subtlety (in the Minuetto) and, although individual performances were good, the different sections of the orchestra did not seem to speak to one another.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.