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French flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, 78

Jean-Pierre Rampal, the world-renowned French flutist whose sheer brilliance and richly hued playing propelled the instrument back into the soloist spotlight, died in Paris on Saturday of heart failure. He was 78.

Musicians and music lovers mourned the loss of a soloist, conductor and teacher best known for his renderings of Baroque masterpieces but who played everything from jazz to English folk songs with tenderness and passion.

When Rampal was young, the flute was often overlooked as a solo instrument, as audiences preferred works for piano and violin. With Rampal in the spotlight, the flute regained the prestige it enjoyed in the 18th century, when works by composers such as Bach highlighted the instrument's pure, crystalline sonority.

Violinist Isaac Stern, reached Saturday in Japan, said it was Rampal's sheer musical brilliance that helped drive the public's attention back to the flute.

"Working with him was pure pleasure, sheer joy, exuberance," Stern said. "He was one of the great musicians of our time, who really changed the world's perception of the flute as a solo instrument."

Rampal's trademarks were his gold flute and his joie de vivre.

"He played with such a rich palette of color in a way that few people had done before and no one since," said flutist and commentator Eugenia Zuckerman.

"He had an ability to imbue sound with texture and clarity and emotional content. He was a dazzling virtuoso, but more than anything he was a supreme poet."

Rampal was a source of pride in France, a country with a rich musical heritage but which has not produced many world-class musicians this century.

French President Jacques Chirac led the tributes, saying "his flute spoke to the heart. A light in the musical world has just flickered out."

Rampal was born Jan. 7, 1922, in Marseille, the son of a flutist.

He became serious about music during World War II, after Nazi occupying forces in France drafted him for labor in Germany. He left medical school and went underground in Paris, where he studied at the National Conservatory and attracted attention by winning the school's famed competition in only five months.

After the war ended, Rampal toured European capitals as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestra member before settling in France as the principal flutist in the Paris Opera's orchestra.

During a 50-year career, Rampal collaborated with other stars such as cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and violinist Itzhak Perlman, played with the Juilliard and Tokyo string quartets and inspired countless young musicians to take up the flute.

"He had something called true talent," said Stern, a friend for 50 years. "It's where you walk onstage and everybody knows you're going to share a very happy time with them. His admirers were adoring and constant."

Rampal's record label, Sony, described him as perhaps the world's most recorded classical musician. Rampal also gained recognition as a conductor and published an autobiography, Music, My Love.

He is survived by his wife, Francoise; two children, Isabelle and Jean-Jacques; and five grandchildren.

Italian tenor Cesare Valletti, 79

ROME _ Cesare Valletti, an Italian tenor renowned for his interpretations of Mozart's operas, has died in Italy at age 79, family friends said.

Valletti hadn't performed for decades. He gave up his career in 1967 because of health problems, said the Genoa newspaper Il Secolo XIX. The paper reported that Valletti died of a heart attack May 14.

Largely forgotten in recent years, Valletti's career peaked in the 1950s. In 1953, he sang with Maria Callas. Critics said his voice possessed rare purity.

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