The gala concert that opened the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's 2012-13 season was quieter than other galas. The guest star was Sir James Galway, and though he is widely considered to be the world's greatest flutist, the flute is not a grandstanding instrument. The piece he played, Mozart's Flute Concerto No. 2, even called for a pared-back orchestra.
But the night had a memorable intimacy.
BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta performed just last month with Galway at the Proms, England's international classical music festival. They are used to each other by now, and are in easy sync. Saturday, Galway's low-key virtuosity brought out the Mozart concerto's beauty. The slow movement sounded like an aria, its melody lines gentle and perfect. In the famous last movement, Galway captured the effervescence of the bubbling theme. He even added an improvisational touch, bending the tempo, playing with the audience. You could not help but love him.
The celebrated flutist's roustabout humor added excitement.
Introducing the first of a pair of encores, he cheerily threw Britain, the source of his knighthood, under the bus. The piece had something to do with Brian Boru - who, Galway informed us, defeated the Danes around the year 1000. (I didn't catch the exact year.)
He added, in his brogue: "It's a pity he didn't linger long enough to meet the English." Then, as the big crowd cracked up: "I shouldn't be saying that."
Humor aside, the encores were glorious. The second one was "Danny Boy," which Galway filled with feeling. "If you feel like it, pray along," he told us as he began. "Because if you don't, you know what happens. Nothing."
How sweet was that? And speaking of sweetness, the evening began with the "Irish Symphony" of Sir Hamilton Harty, a composer from Northern Ireland.
This is a handsome piece, nothing that will change the world but delightful all the same. The music did not get boring, which is high praise. It had a satisfying color and momentum. It is shot through with folk themes and reels, and it strikes a note of nostalgia. The scherzo, a light dance with colorful percussion, had an irresistible spirit of fun. The woodwinds got plenty of chance to shine, and we also heard attractive solo work from Michael Ludwig, the concertmaster.
After the Mozart and Galway's evocative encores, the night ended with Galway and his wife, Lady Jeanne Galway, both soloing in David Overton's "The Magic Flutes," a barrage of themes from Mozart madly mixed up and arranged for two flutes and orchestra.
I have mixed feelings on this piece. I got a kick out of it last time the Galways played it here, a few years ago. Now, maybe the novelty has worn off, but it seems kind of silly. I have feelings for the themes Overton used, they mean a lot to me, and I don't like to hear just a few bars of, say, the 39th Symphony, or the C minor piano concerto, or the poignant Clarinet Concerto. It did not take a lot of talent to put this together and it does not add up to a lot.
But the Galways gave it their all, and if they do not win you over, no one will. Lady Jeanne Galway has her own tone, warm and rich, that adds to her husband's capricious virtuosity. The two of them together are a joy. Falletta and the orchestra put in a polished performance of this schizophrenic, scrambled music, and the night ended on an up note.
I had to run out the door, but my spies tell me that there followed a madcap arrangement, also by Overton, of Mozart's "Turkish March."