Chamber music and recital

James Galway: Recital

James Galway, the flautist well known for making a lucrative career as a touring soloist, delighted the Beijing audience with an evening of impressionist and a pair of late-19th century Doppler arrangements. Beginning the evening was Faure’s Fantasie for Flute & Piano, Op. 79, which Galway had to restart twice due to nuances with his flute. Perhaps because of the restarts, a brief trip to the backstage in between to work on his flute, and a pause due to a poorly-timed cellphone ring, Galway seemed a little hesitant and not fully immersed in Faure’s buttery melodic arches. His delivery of Clair de Lune by Debussy was also problematic, sounding choppy and somewhat limping. His first Doppler, Andante & Rondo for Two Flutes & Piano, Op. 25, in which he shared the stage with his wife, Lady Galway, sounded a lot better. Sir Galway seemed very much at ease with his wife’s presence, and harmonically in control of the trio (with Michael McHale as the accompanying pianist) even as Lady Galway and McHale had respectively the bulk of the melodic and rhythmic lines. The second Doppler was the deliciously crafted Rigoletto Fantasy for Two Flutes, Op. 38. The exquisite arrangements on the Caro nome theme were marred by a dynamic imbalance that Lady Galway seemed desperate to correct. While her open embouchure produced a bigger, breathier sound, her air-stream was audible, with an especially annoying diffusion at the top notes.  The regular program ended with Francois Borne’s Carmen Fantasie, in which Galway seemed to have missed a few notes and looked more laborious than in complete control. A sublime rendition of Danny Boy as encore, paired with an expert control over the Irish tune’s pianissimo, partially redeemed the virtuoso, but left me wondering whether he has fully recovered from the physical and mental trauma of going through his arm injury a few years ago.

James Galway in Beijing.

James Galway in Beijing.


NCPA/Lü: Rigoletto

Date: August 28, 2011
Conductor: Lü Jia
Director: Stefano Vizioli
Location: The National Centre for the Performing Arts (The Egg), Beijing.

Rigoletto returns to the NCPA after two consecutive years of monstrous box office. Desiree Rancatore and Leo Nucci flew in for two of this year’s four performances, but the TFS, having heard the duo thrice in the past two years, opted for one of the other two performances with an all-Chinese cast.

Yuan Chenye (袁晨野) delivered a vocally masterful performance as Rigoletto. His stentorian voice easily carried over the Lü Jia-directed NCPA Orchestra. Yuan’s timbre was somewhat monotone, but was saved by the size of his voice and his passionate stage presence. Xue Haoyin (薛皓垠), as the Duke, had an Italianate voice, combining rich colorings of uttered syllables with a bright, crisp sound. His acting denied him a flawless outing, as he did not seem comfortable singing and acting at the same time. His beautiful, seductive lines in Bella figlia found very little in common with his stiffened body on stage, making the audience wonder whether Maddalena was merely seducing a singing but otherwise lifeless Roman sculpture. Yao Hong (幺红) had a questionable evening as Gilda. Her voice lacked control, as evidenced by various overparted top notes in Caro nome and then in Si, vendetta! She also looked visibly strained as she navigated those higher registers. Nonetheless she attempted the optional E-flat at the end of the third Act quartet, to the bewilderment of some audience members. Song Wei (宋委), with her candied visage and foxy body, had all the visual qualities of a seductive Maddalena, but her intonation proved average and the size of her voice remained so small that she and not Yao was the weakest link in that quartet.