It's hard to imagine a better-balanced and tighter-knit ensemble than the New Irish Chamber Orchestra, a group of 13 top-notch musicians under direction of flutist James Galway.
Saturday night in the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall, with a program mostly of baroque flute showpieces, Galway & Co. presented a series of intricately polished performances, to the thunderous delight of a capacity crowd. And if they sometimes seemed more slick than spontaneous--in Bach's Concerto in A Minor and Suite No. 2 in B Minor, Arthur Duff's pleasantly forgettable Irish Suite, three Vivaldi flute concertos and several playful encores--the overall effect still was satisfying and engaging.
Galway, a virtuoso with few equals and a performer of great personal charm, also shows skill as a musical adapter. From the Bach concerto--originally a work in F minor featuring the harpsichord--he has distilled a solo flute part that's both seamless and lyrical, while his performance on Saturday let this beautiful music breathe. Such adaptations, like Galway's transcription of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," make the solo flute literature all the richer.
The Vivaldi concertos--No. 4 in G Major, No. 5 in F Major and No. 6 in G Major--strongly evoke that chamber masterwork, both in structure and the use of thematic material. Galway gave the concertos a bright, rustic reading, with the orchestra providing him an appropriately pastoral canvas. While the Bach suite built beautifully from dance to dance, the group took the final and difficult "Badinerie" at an eccentrically rapid tempo. Even so, they played it to near perfection.