James Galway seemed to be working really hard for about two minutes last night at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. It was near the end of the program, while he was playing "The Irish Washer Woman" solo on a tin whistle -- giving an illusion of counterpoint with clever timing of notes, then fingering the tune with only one hand, switching hands in mid-phrase and finally playing a duet on two tin whistles simultaneously. In comparison, he seemed to be loafing the rest of the time. Though it was pleasant enough to loaf along with him, there was considerably more variety in the work of singer Cleo Laine, who was his partner in the concert and, by no coincidence in a new record album "Sometimes When We Touch."
The flute can do a few things impossible for the human voice -- though Laine seemed able to match Galway note for note in their duets. But her instrument has one advantage over his which she used expertly -- the ability to shape words, to explore their meaning and their functional overtone. The little break in her voice when she sings "I don't know" at the climax of "My Bill" is somehow more impressive than the whole "Flight of the Bumblebee" on Galway flute.
Not that there was any sense of rivalry in the performance. The two worked together smoothly, brilliantly and with mutual respect in the program that ranged from jazz and folk music through adaptions of Bach, Mozart and Satie to John Denver -- whom Galway unfortunately chose to call "one of America's foremost and most brilliant young composers." Despite such small lapses, this concert was as fine an evening as happens these days in American popular music.