The surprise of seeing ticket scalpers at a baroque flute concert was second only to the surprise that accompanied last night's encounter with simple, perfect beauty. The superstar flutist James Galway tooted his golden instrument at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, and his immense popularity was easy to understand. It was a fabulous concert.

Galway was accompanied by Philip Moll on the harpsichord and Moray Welsh on the cello. To music of Bach, Handel and Couperin, they brought the quaint delicacy of ancient instruments without the fragile intonation that these carry. Only in Handel's Sonata in B Minor, Op. 1 No. 98, did one miss briefly the mellow tones of the flute-a-bec and her sisters. Even there Galway's accuracy and the joy of his musicality were thrilling.

The concert began with Bach's Sonata in G Minor BWV 1020, and its adagio central movement set the tone for the evening. Here was virtuosity that was never opulent, legato phrasing that was refreshing in its ease. Galway hides his incredible technique and makes it all sound just natural; even in the fastest runs and slightest trills, his notes have softer boundaries than one might expect. The trio rushed triumphantly through Couperin's Concert Royal No. 4, then settling into the serenity of Bach's Sonata in B Minor BWV 1040, where Galway's flute literally sang the leaps of the andante.

An instantly likable showman, Galway paused to apply lip balm before the Couperin, again impishly to adjust his velvet coat and to chat with the audience. Of the unaccompanied Sonata in B Minor BWV 1013, he said that "I'm certain that when Bach wrote it nobody could play it." He may be right, and the piece unveiled Galway's virtuosity as the crowd gasped and cheered