Music

Toot Sweet: At the Kennedy Center, Flutist James Galway's Easy-Listening Virtuosity

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sir James Galway may be the most famous flutist on the planet; not only does he have a superb technique and gorgeous tone, but he's personable to a fault -- the lovable Irish imp of classical music. His concerts are equally user-friendly, designed to charm the ears rather than provoke the mind. "People don't bring their heads to a concert," he says on the Kennedy Center's Web site. "They bring their hearts, and they want to be touched."

Well . . . okay; though a few of us do manage to drag our pesky brains along, and sometimes they even enjoy the experience. But true to form, Galway's Monday night performance at the Kennedy Center stayed firmly on the safe side, with half of the evening devoted to yawningly familiar staples of the flute repertoire and the other half to trifles so light and sugary they made your teeth hurt.

Not that any of it was badly played; the evening was full of furious pyrotechnics. And in all fairness, chamber music rarely survives the vastness of the Concert Hall. But rather than exploring the music in any depth, Galway seemed intent on dispatching it with athletic flourish. Poulenc's Sonata for Flute and Piano was full of wit and personality, but Prokofiev's Sonata in D, Op. 94 -- the one truly great work on the program -- was played for effect rather than meaning, its thorns removed and its mysteries glossed over.

The rest of the program was a grab bag of pleasant, late-19th-century bits of nothing that evaporated as soon as they hit the ears; 45 minutes of encore pieces, more or less. But in truth, even though the head was getting a little cranky by the end, the heart was quietly smiling. Probably just a sugar high.

-- Stephen Brookes


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