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James Galway filmed live in performance at Belfast's Waterfront Hall in 1999, and in conversation with Melvyn Bragg

The Concert: REINECKE Sonata, PROKOFIEV Sonata, MOUQUET La Flûte de Pan, TAFFANEL Fantaisie, DOPPLER Andante et Rondo, OVERTON Jeanne's Song, MORLACCHI Il Pastore Svizzero, TRAD. Danny Boy, RIMSKY-KORSAKOV The Flight of the Bumble-bee
James Galway (flute) Phillip Moll (piano) Jeanne Galway (flute)
NVC Arts - Warner Music Vision 8573-84093-2 [132:00] DVD
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This two-part DVD represents marvellous value for money. Producer Nigel Wattis in conjunction with London Weekend Television's South Bank Show filmed the highlight of James Galway's 1999 British Tour, the recital in the flautist's original home town, Belfast. Incorporating some of this material he went on to produce and direct a fascinating documentary, in which 'Jimmy' is seen visiting old friends, the music shop in which he worked, his school and a 'Flutewise' convention, all interwoven with Melvyn Bragg's searching interview filmed at Galway's home in Switzerland.

The 90-minute concert alone is worth the price of this disc. For those who have never seen Galway live in concert, the reasons behind his extraordinary rise to fame in the late nineteen seventies will soon become apparent. With little fuss and a disdain for platform antics or time-wasting talking to the audience, James Galway grabs attention from his very first note. His sheer commitment to giving the finest possible performances creates a tangible atmosphere and a true sense of occasion. He also knows how to plan a programme with the two masterpieces (Reinecke and Prokofiev) placed at the start. Both are extremely well played and the sound is ideally balanced. Jules Mouquet's La Flûte de Pan is an entertaining piece, perhaps a little long for its material, but the highly virtuosic ending brings a real sense of climax and fulfilment. Taffanel's Fantaisie is quite different in style with a long plangent melody intermixed with hair-raising and demanding runs for the flute which Galway sails through with apparent ease. But as the ensuing documentary makes clear, this art without artifice is the result of much hard work. Galway never makes life easy for himself.

At this point onto the stage strides a blonde lady of commanding presence carrying a flute. A study of the DVD's packaging fails completely to explain who this person is, or that a flute duet is in prospect. (It also fails to mention the name of the pianist) Only at the end of the concert are we told, on screen in the scrolling credits, that this is Galway's wife, Jeanne Galway. Doppler's Andante et Rondo is a highly entertaining piece for two flutes and piano and those who knew Jeanne's playing when they were first married will be struck how she has progressed to the point where she is clearly James's equal technically. Moreover the performance is finely integrated, with Jeanne, not surprisingly, employing her husband's famed vibrato to create a cohesive whole.

Overton's Jeanne's Song is also a duet and, unlike the famous Annie's Song which helped propel Galway to international fame, is not based on a pop song. The composer has thoughtfully given the main material to Jeanne, whilst her husband provides, for much of the piece, a dutiful accompaniment. But by the end the music asks for both partners to play together in ever virtuosic harmony. A nice touch.

James Galway then programmes the most difficult and breathtaking music in the concert - a dedicated moment for the many flute-fanciers in the audience who respond with an ovation. Il Pastore Svizzero is hardly great music, but as an étude in the form of a set of variations it does its job admirably.

Finally two Galway favourites as encores, Danny Boy played with a calm respect and intense rubato at the climax and the Rimsky-Korsakov Bumble-bee which must have sent the audience home buzzing.

The camera work is excellent with no rapid changes of angle to disturb the enjoyment of the music. On the night blue lighting was incorporated with white and the vision of a punk middle-aged pianist tends to be an unfortunate result. But after an initial laugh this soon failed to annoy.

The documentary which follows is certainly no mere 'fill-up'. Galway's humanity comes shining through. The sequence of him playing under Bernstein is treasure trove as is his unpretentious explanation of why he uses flutes made of gold rather than other metals. His honest appraisal of his time with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic is as moving as the sequence involving his charity Flutewise. By the end of the programme I was struck by Galway's fundamental decency, honesty and artistry. His belief in the power of prayer, stated with disarming simplicity, clearly impressed Bragg as much as I believe it will move the audience at home.

This DVD is a fine advertisement for the new medium, particularly for those music lovers tempted by £120 DVD players from the local superstore. In the UK the disc will probably retail for around sixteen pounds - maybe a lot less. So, consider this. Forget switching on the TV set; just listen to the concert through the hi-fi as if this were an audio CD - all ninety minutes of it. That's about fourteen pounds accounted for, at least. For an extra couple of pounds there's then the beautifully filmed and uplifting video documentary to return to from time to time.

Simon Foster

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