Jean-Pierre Rampal held in his customary sway a larger than capacity audience at the Kennedy Center for his solo recital Saturday night. Several hundred listeners flowed over onto stage seats, even though it has been fewer than three months since musical Washington made a fete of his 60th birthday for four nights in a row. Unlike those of several other superstar instrumentalists, Rampal's reputation is based on the most solid musicianship and technique. And much as he can ooze Gallic charm, he allows no horseplay on the platform.
Rampal attracts the most devoted followers, but these events are not feverish love-ins. One reason is the emotional coolness of the music. The first half of a program is invariably from the baroque, that mother lode of the flute repertory that has become familiar from Rampal's concerts and recordings. Saturday night there were sonatas by Handel, Leclair, J.S. Bach and C.P.E. Bach, and none developed to any great cathartic power. The emphasis was on serenity--whether it was serene melancholy or serene animation. Its excitement came from the usual Rampal virtues, purity of tone, elegance of line and sometimes amazing agility.
In the second half there was an agreeably urbane sonata by the contemporary composer Jinrich Feld, and then an extended sonata by a lesser colleague of Chopin and Mendelssohn, Ignaz Moscheles. Structurally the work was too loose, but there were all kinds of bold harmonic touches.
Rampal's encores were, as they often are, the most delectable part of the evening. There was a flute transcription of Gershwin's G-sharp piano prelude (the one with the blues theme) that no doubt would have delighted the composer, a transcription of Chopin's Minute Waltz with articulation lighter than you could ever get on a piano, a Joplin rag and a Weber rondo that ended the concert in a whirlwind of notes.