James Galway

Celebrating 70: A Collection of Personal Favorites

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Whether or not the 19 selections recorded here offer the "favorite recordings" of Irish flutist James Galway -- there is no indication of his involvement beyond the cover matter -- this compilation comes close to the mark in delivering what it promises. The notes are not by Galway, but they identify his strengths, and the program reflects them: Galway has a knack for going for the audience-appeal jugular in whatever he plays. In themed albums where he tries to extract the maximum in sentimentality this can be annoying, but in his live appearances, as shown by his decades as a top box-office draw, he can find a common denominator in quite a variety of music. This disc, though not live, offers the same kind of variety, as Galwaymoves from Baroque selections, to the Pink Panther theme, to Prokofiev and Rimsky-Korsakov, back to the contemporary American folk hit Ashokan Farewell, to a variety of pop songs, all without conceding that he's crossing any stylistic boundaries. Along the way are some genuinely inventive treatments showing that Galway's skill as an arranger is an underrated aspect of his art, and enough arresting miniatures to keep just about anybody happy, even hardened cynics. Try, for instance, the reading of Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" with vocalist Cleo Laine, taking the vocal line straightforwardly as Galway executes a more or less constant stream of consciousness alongside her. There are just a few weak points; Galway opens with a plodding Vivaldi Four Seasons movement of the kind that has fallen out of fashion. The most recent track comes from Galway's improbably successful 2008 recording of Latin American jazz, but most of the music dates from his true heyday in the late '70s and 1980s. It's a good pick for a Galway introduction, and it may remind even confirmed Galway fans of a few old favorites.

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