RICHMOND — The classical music of Ireland took center stage at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond on Tuesday evening in a delightful concert featuring world-renowned flutist Sir James Galway and the Irish Chamber Orchestra, currently on tour with American conductor Joann Falletta.
Throughout the evening, Galway treated the audience to humorous insights about the music and Ireland as he introduced the various pieces.
The program began with a light, charming work for flute and orchestra called In Ireland by Hamilton Harty, depicting street musicians in Dublin at dusk.
The musicians then offered Mozart's Flute Concerto in D Major, one of the standard works for the instrument despite its origins as an oboe concerto in C major. This little fact was but one of the interesting morsels Galway fed the audience in his fun patter before the concerto, which had the large crowd laughing uproariously as he explained the reasons for Mozart's antipathy toward the flute. The sense of unrestrained enjoyment continued into the performance of the concerto itself, especially in the buoyant third movement, when Galway's virtuosity particularly dazzled the audience. It was a joy to observe the lively engagement between the soloist and the conductor as the piece progressed.
Following the concerto, Galway's wife, Lady Jeanne Galway, also a superb flutist, joined the forces onstage for Carolan Variations by Philip Hammond, another lovely work utilizing two melodies by the legendary Irish harpist Turlough O'Carolan. The piece opens with a gorgeous extended passage for solo string quartet, which the principal players of the Irish Chamber Orchestra fulfilled with utmost beauty of tone, echoed in turn by the intimate ensemble between the two flutes.
As the first of four encores to the first half, the Galways and the orchestra presented a delightful transcription of Mozart's famous Rondo alla Turca movement from the C major piano sonata. Then James Galway and orchestra played a couple of folk song transcriptions, The March of Brian Baroo and an exquisite, lush Danny Boy. Finally, they left the audience with a thrillingly fleet morsel from a Bach flute sonata, again transcribed for orchestral forces.
After intermission, Falletta and the orchestra had the stage to themselves for more Mozart, the revered Symphony No. 41 in C Major, nicknamed the Jupiter Symphony because it is Mozart's grandest, most expansive work in that genre.
Falletta's clear, unfussy baton technique served the music well, and the orchestra responded with elegantly tapered phrases and articulate, colorful playing, especially from the first violins led by concertmaster Nicola Sweeney.
Particularly noteworthy was the beautiful sectional playing by the various strings and the woodwinds: Perhaps it is this extraordinary level of listening to each other and precise ensemble playing that is really meant by the designation "chamber" orchestra, more than the mere slender size of the performing body.
Falletta and the orchestra also offered an encore of their own, a ravishing arrangement of The Last Rose of Summer by another of the group's first violinists, Kenneth Rice.
Altogether, the concert was a lyrical, lovely import from a nation long recognized as having poetry and song at the root of its soul.