Golden moments with Galway the man, and the flutist
One never knows with Sir James Galway which comes first: the bonhomie of the stage manner, or the glowing perfection of tone and articulation, the sincerity and elegance of the playing.
The Irish flutist, who turns 70 on Dec. 8, warmed up with a few phrases at the start of his recital at Ozawa Hall on Thursday, and one felt the shock of recognition that arrives with any great musician. There it was, that warmly projected sound, the running notes like beads of molten gold circled with light. (The hall’s acoustics seem especially favorable to the flute.) Then there was some light chat with the hand-held mike to put the music in context, and later some charming confusion about the music, which was on the program but not on his stand. He seemed to turn the hall into his private studio and us into casual visitors.
The program was heavy with 19th-century French and Italian academic showpieces - as if Galway felt he was expected to impress students at the Berkshire Music School and other aficionados of the instrument. (When he asked how many flute players were in the audience, at least 30 raised their hands.) This fancy fare included Philippe Gaubert’s Sonata No. 3 and Nocturne and Allegro Scherzando, and Galway’s own arrangement of Giulio Briccialdi’s “Carnival of Venice,’’ a virtuoso piece made famous on the violin by Jascha Heifetz (an early idol - Galway started out on the violin). In the second half, Galway was joined by his wife, the flutist Lady Jeanne Galway, for a set of long and uninteresting variations on themes from Verdi’s “Rigoletto’’ by the Polish-Hungarian brothers Franz and Karl Doppler. In these, moreover, the two parts are so closely knit one could not make out Lady Galway’s separate tone or style.
There were also, thank goodness, some pieces of simple beauty and charm. Cécile Chaminade’s Concertino and Claude-Paul Taffanel’s Grand Fantasy on themes from Ambroise Thomas’s opera, “Mignon,’’ showed off Galway’s ability to spin a golden line, soft and loud, long and short, in all registers. Perhaps, if one listened for them, a few signs of age could be detected - an occasional shortness of breath, a fudged note or two. But one had to listen very hard.
The encores were Gaubert’s “Divertissement grec’’ (a lovely piece, originally for two flutes and harp, performed with Lady Galway), and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s inexhaustible bumblebee which seems, come to think of it, just the image for the flutist himself. Phillip Moll, Galway’s able accompanist since 1975, kept up with him.