JAMES GALWAY AT THE WATERFRONT
James Galway filmed live in performance at Belfast's Waterfront Hall
in 1999, and in conversation with Melvyn Bragg
The Concert: REINECKE Sonata,
MOUQUET La Flûte de Pan,
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]
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
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.