Thursday, November 7, 2013

James Galway brings his puckish Irish charm to the Palladium

James Galway played 3 solo encores after filling concert's first half in the spotlight
The golden flute of James Galway brings more than musical riches to musicians he travels with, because it's a certainty the Irish Chamber Orchestra wouldn't have the kind of tour it's now on without a marquee soloist who's an Emerald Isle native to boot.

Galway, his flutist wife Jeanne, and the Irish ensemble (conducted by JoAnn Falletta) drew a huge crowd to the Palladium Wednesday night.

It's certain that Sir James' elfin humor is part of the atttraction, and there's undoubtedly plenty of shtick brought into play at this point to supplement his undeniable musical gifts. Galway, who turns 74 next month, is a showman with a twinkly personality, in addition to being a superlative flutist.

Galway played with panache the character piece "In Ireland" by Hamilton Harty by way of introduction. Then he moved through Mozart, choosing the attractive but less characteristic of the Austrian master's two flute concertos. It was the one in D major, the composer's transcription (moved a whole step higher) of the Oboe Concerto, the form in which it still sounds better to me, despite the flair that Galway brought to the solo part.

His wife, Jeanne, joined him onstage for a new work, fashioned for the duo and string orchestra from the original by Philip Hammond — like Galway, a native of Northern Ireland.

"Carolan Variations" uses two traditional Irish tunes, the second one associated with the 18th-century blind harper Turlough O'Carolan. The work is flowing, then sprightly, calculated to make the most of the accessible charm of the solo couple, with the accompaniment serving that end exclusively. It was a pleasant  showcase, followed by an encore featuring both Galways: an arrangement of Mozart's "Turkish Rondo."

Since Sir James is the obvious superstar of the couple, he returned for three solo encores, with "Danny Boy" drawing the most sighs, and the "Badinerie" from J.S. Bach's Orchestra Suite No. 2 in B minor getting gasps of amazement at the soloist's nimble articulation, with no sacrifice of his characteristically warm tone.

It was hard to get a firm notion of the Irish Chamber Orchestra's quality in the first half, so focused was it on the Galway substance and aura. That favorable impression turned out to be well worth waiting for, as Falletta led a persuasive account of Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 in A minor ("Scottish").

The ensemble may not be the last word in machine-tooled precision, but its focused cohesion was never in doubt. The orchestra produces a warm tone, with excellent wind playing well-integrated with the strings. Nothing was taken for granted in the performance, with transitional material as carefully fashioned as the symphony's many catchy tunes. The concert's second half made the Irish Chamber Orchestra's visit as memorable as the rare local appearance by its star soloist.