Flutist Galway Skims the Surfaces

Instrumental virtuosity, such as the type that James Galway commands, can be a mixed blessing. It certainly proved to be in the popular flutist's latest local recital, Saturday at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.

On the one hand, Galway's famed technique allowed him to leap all technical hurdles with the greatest of ease. On the other, it eliminated any need for him to grapple directly with musical substance, to roll up his sleeves and do the dirty work of entering into the emotional and dramatic content of the music he played.

With Phillip Moll as silken accompanist, Galway skated right over the surface of most of the music on the program, which included sonatas by Schubert, Martinu, Philippe Gaubert and Lowell Liebermann. His tone was as beautiful as ever, and artfully applied throughout his range. His breathing was as effortless and invisible, his phrasing as simple and fluid as it always is. But this time, in contrast to his last two area recitals, he seemed entirely unengaged.

Schubert's "Arpeggione" Sonata, Martinu's and Gaubert's First Sonatas, and Liebermann's 1987 Sonata all emerged as mere pleasantries, as grist for a genial good time. Initially, in the opening bars of Francesco Morlacchi's "Il Pastore Svizzero," Galway, with a warm, soaring lyricism, sounded more interested. But with the piece quickly degenerating into empty variations, he was soon whizzing along as thoughtlessly as a court stenographer.

No one was hurt by all this. It was a soothing and good-humored show, capped by "Danny Boy" and "Flight of the Bumblebee." But Galway is capable of much more.

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