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Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann chose a program perfect for the opening concert of his final season as Music Director, presented on September 12 in Meymandi Concert Hall. It opened with Artur Rodzinski's arrangement of a suite from Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss, which has few rivals in waltzdom for sheer beauty. The difficult music reminded the audience that the NCSO is a very good band, and it was playing the music of one of the greatest of orchestrators. The piece sang. It oozed rich harmonies. It had "sudden pianos" which were executed perfectly. In this performance, the horn solos were played superbly by Andrew McAfee, as were oboe/flute duets by Melanie Wilsden and Anne Whaley Laney. The violin solo was masterfully realized by Concertmaster Brian Reagin.
"Death and Transfiguration," also by Strauss, is a programmatic tone poem in which the "sudden fortes" were done as professionally as the earlier "sudden pianos." Again there was fine woodwind work, with the strings providing a base of repeated notes. The orchestra flooded the hall with rich, dense sound, but Strauss kept it interesting with themes underneath featuring combinations of instruments. It has the tuba (of David Lewis) carrying the theme at one point, a rarity in orchestral writing.
After intermission, "crossover" flutist James Galway put his artistry on display on his golden flute. It is not an affectation to play one. It has a more mellow, wood-like tone than sterling silver. With flutes, the more expensive the metal the better they sound. He played Mozart's D Major Concerto, an adaptation of one he wrote in C Major for oboe. He claimed not to be able to bear the instrument (the flute of his day lacked power), but he was not capable of writing poorly, so this concerto was (and is) lovely. Galway showed how a master tapers the ends of cadenzas seamlessly into the body of the work.
He is his most engaging self when he talks and plays the pennywhistle, as he did in Henry Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk" and "Pennywhistle Gig." The flute was employed for Mancini's "The Pink Panther" and "Pie in the Face Polka." He played encores, one of which was a Bach badinerie that contestants in competitions are often inspired to play in the shortest possible time. Galway would surely be a leader. All in all, his performance was pure beauty and fun. The audience had contributed generously to attend this concert. It got its money's worth.