Sir James Galway with the Irish Chamber Orchestra
4 ½ stars
The Palladium, Nov. 6
Thank you Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway for sharing your largesse along with that of the Irish Chamber Orchestra. And thank you Center for the Performing Arts for bringing this exemplary program to us. At age 75, Sir James need not trouble himself with a 14-city tour from Connecticut to California, yet here he was, smartly attired in a cutaway atop a brocade vest atop expertly tailored trousers, his jaunty spirit touching each of us individually and collectively. His expansive passion for playing laced with genuine love of people is complemented by Lady Jeanne's warm glamour, her flowing azure gown set off by a sparkling plunge neckline equally befitting their world premier of composer Philip Hammond's Carolan Variations set to string accompaniment.
As a nod to the legacy of Irish harpist Turlough O'Carolan and musicologist Edward Bunting, this mix of meditation and merriness encapsulates the sweep of Ireland's musical portraiture, equally spotlighted through Hamilton Harty's fantasy slice-of-life In Ireland. With Concerto in D Major for Flute and Orchestra, K. 314 Sir Galway illustrated Mozart's sparkling reflections of place and temperament, deftly stroking upon and along with the Chamber Orchestra's sensitivity to the composition's fluid palette. Sir Galway's joy of the moment illuminated a delicate transparency of what the music of Ireland means to him as he offered a handful of encores including a rendition of Danny Boy that seeps into one's soul as impeccable pacing soars the sentiment above us, sweeps us into its swirl and finally sets us into a sense of infinity as the final note stretches into soundless echoes.
The Irish Chamber Orchestra with JoAnn Falletta conducting showed their virtuosity with an authoritative fullness and crisp articulation of Mendelssohn's poetic vision of the struggles between love and hate, dipping into balladry and leaping into majestic themes, skillfully articulating diversity between Scottish and Germanic sentiments. As his final work, Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56 ("Scottish") references his concept of "absolute" music as a way to underscore his assertion that "Notes have as distinct a meaning as words, perhaps even a more definite one."
This is the kind of program capable of imprinting itself as a memory of being in the presence of something truly special. Sir Galway offered a flute master class Thursday morning, prior to the troupe's departure for that evening's performance at the University of Illinois' Krannert Center in Urbana.