With music making as effervescent as its flute-playing conductor, Sir James Galway, the Polish Chamber Orchestra shone last night at the Stranahan Theater. The concert was not without its handicaps, however.
The snowy weather probably accounted for most of the theater's empty seats; the hall's drab acoustics stole some of the orchestra's considerable luster.
The music - all by Mozart - could hardly have been more familiar. The program opened with the popular serenade Eine kleine Nachtmusik, which Sir James delivered with a heavy dose of spunk seasoned with moments of gravity-defying tempo suspensions. Instrumental balance emphasized inner voices, allowing listeners to peer inside the workings of Mozart's occasionally piston-driven orchestral machine.
Sir James directs with lots of pizzazz, but it is still with the flute that he shines brightest. He gave lovely sonorities to Mozart's D major flute concerto. The orchestra played its subtle best when Sir James was busy playing rather than conducting. Clearly, they were listening and enjoying what they heard.
After intermission, Sir James led his musicians in what may have been the world's fastest performance of Symphony No. 40 in G Minor. I am not generally one to pay attention to timings, but couldn't resist with this performance, which came in at 23 minutes. (The program notes said it would take a stodgy 35.)
All that speed did little for the performance, which was more gymnastic than thoughtful and decidedly short on nuance.
The evening closed with flutist Lady Jeanne Galway joining her husband and orchestra for "The Magic Flutes," a hodge-podge of famous Mozart tunes hammered together in medley fashion by David Overton. The piece, which Sir James announced was commissioned by his management expressly for this tour, was designed as a showcase vehicle for the Galways. It was a disappointing way to conclude an otherwise delightful evening.
For the record, two flutists are not better than one, nor are 25 Mozart melodies better than two or three presented with care. The music was an exercise in excess, like a dinner of 25 courses in which the diners took no more than a spoonful of each before tossing the plates over their collective shoulders.