John Frayne: Galway brilliant, Irish orchestra splendid in Foellinger

John Frayne: Galway brilliant, Irish orchestra splendid in Foellinger

At what was clearly one of the best concerts of this year so far, the Foelliinger Great Hall was packed Nov. 7 to hear Sir James Galway, flutist, and his wife Lady Jeanne Galway, along with the Irish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by rising star JoAnn Falletta.

Galway is a figure of historic importance: He is the first superstar flute virtuoso, at least in the past two hundred years, thanks largely due to his use of the recording medium to reach a multilevel fan base. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he clearly kissed the Blarney Stone on his way to world fame.

The concert began with a charming piece by the great Irish conductor Sir Hamilton Harty entitled "In Ireland," originally written for flute and piano. Galway played the attractive flute solo with Harty's 1935 orchestral accompaniment, played by the Irish Chamber Orchestra.

But it was in the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Flute Concerto in D Major (originally for oboe) that Galway's brilliance became clear. He molded phrases with supreme artistry, his attacks and releases were flawless, and his superb virtuosity in the solo cadenzas was showstopping. I presume the cadenzas were by Galway himself.

Next, Lady Jeanne Galway, resplendent in a flowing yellow gown, joined her husband in Peter Hammond's "Carolan Variations," a work highlighting melodies of Ireland's famous blind harper Turlough Carolan (1670-1738).

The Galways showed admirable dash and bravura echoing each other's phrases, particularly in the Irish jig section. Clearly they practice together. James Galway then, mike in hand, introduced, with a sprinkling of jokes, a series of encores. A peppy arrangement of Mozart's "Rondo alla Turca," from the Piano Sonata, K. 331, was, according to Galway, filched from Mozart's fax machine tray in Salzburg.

After a lively playing of "Brian Boru's March" and a soulful rendition of "Danny Boy," came a zippy run-through of the "Badinerie" finale to Johann Sebastian Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 2, which Galway claimed was a work by "Johann Sebastian Obama." After a tumultuous standing ovation, Galway during intermission signed autographs for hundreds of folks lined up in the lobby. It was obvious at the opening of the second part that many had not returned for the rest of the program.

What a shame! Although I knew beforehand how great Galway is, I had never heard a live performance before conducted by Falletta. I was highly impressed by the brilliant, sensitive, and dramatic performance she led with the first-rate playing by the members of the Irish Chamber Orchestra of Felix Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3: "the Scottish." With incisive beat, Falletta made every segment of this master work vivid as she and the orchestra displayed Mendelssohn's splendid sense of form.

This fine ensemble had first-rate playing from all its section, but particularly from its lively clarinetist Catherine Spencer. As encore, Falletta introduced a setting of the traditional Irish air, "The Last Rose of Summer," in a subtle arrangement by a member of the orchestra's violin section, Kenneth Rice. The playing of oboist Daniel Bates was most affecting. Many in the audience stood at the end of this most memorable evening.

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On Sunday, I attended a concert by young cellist Jay Campbell, a first-prize winner of the Concert Artists Guild. He was accompanied by pianist Conor Hanick. Playing with a firm, well-focused tone, Campbell and Hanick impressed me with the dramatic flair of their playing in Ludwig van Beethoven's Seven Variations on an Aria from Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute." Sensitive tone colors were evident from Campbell and Hanick in Claude Debussy's Sonata for Cello and Piano.

And the concluding "Suite Italienne" by Igor Stravinsky, a reworking of movements from his work "Pulchinella," had saucy, witty playing by this youthful duo.

Two contemporary works were played, and the first was a U.S. premier of a piece by Mattias Pintcher entitled "Uriel." In this work, Campbell produced some weird rasping glissandos from his instrument. I found this work one to be endured rather than enjoyed.

I found more pleasure in John Zorn's "occam's razor" (2013), which had been written for Campbell. This piece evoked frenzied playing from both Campbell and Hanick, but at least it had some formal development and seemed to be going somewhere. After the concert, Campbell told me that in that piece Zorn was trying to pare down his music to its basic essentials. Well, live and learn!

John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM. He can be reached at frayne@illinois.edu.

Topics (1):Music

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