Irish flutist James Galway, the top-selling performer of modern times on the instrument, released his Wings of Song CD in the fall of 2004. Some observers felt the album would give Galway fans more of what they'd been wanting for nearly three decades now. Others pointed to the musician's move to the Deutsche Grammophon label, where he began his recording career as a member of the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan in the 1970s. "I feel like I'm 'back in,' if you like," Galway himself is quoted as saying in the booklet notes.
Neither of these perspectives really gets to the heart of what's going on here. Galway's runaway success has certainly been due in part to his remarkably sweet and consistent tone on the flute; one indication of his abilities here is his skill in transferring his characteristic sound to the much less forgiving tin whistle on the traditional tune "The Dawning of the Day." Galway has also stayed on top of the crossover game by virtue of a knack for finding material with a real common touch. He nods here to one of his earlier smash recordings with a remake of "Annie," originally recorded by John Denver, and he jumps on the Lord of the Rings bandwagon with a suite composed especially for him by Howard Shore. The rest of the pieces on Wings of Song are familiar classical melodies, among them "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma, Offenbach's Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann, and the Pie Jesu from the Fauré Requiem. Galway is accompanied here by the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Klauspeter Seibel, and on a few numbers by the grandly designated Lady Jeanne Galway.
The canniest move Sir James makes here is to put himself at the services of a pop producer who ties everything together into a neat package in a way that hadn't been done with his earlier releases. That producer, Craig Leon, was among the early nurturers of the careers of Blondie, the Ramones, and the Talking Heads, and he helmed various other releases ranging from new wave to roots rock to country. Leon did all the arrangements for Wings of Song, as he did for Joshua Bell's hit release, Romance of the Violin. The two albums resemble each other strongly, and fans of one will doubtless enjoy the other. Leon, without writing the same arrangement every time, makes a homogeneous group out of quite a varied set of tunes; tempos are pushed toward a golden mean, and the album has a consistent sound no matter where you dip into it. It's category-killer classical music, tastefully served up for an age of immaculate consumption, and nobody carries it off better than James Galway.