in: Reviews

March 16, 2009

BCO’s Classical Hit Parade

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Now beyond “up and coming,” the Boston Classical Orchestra performed the music of “Three composers at the top of the Classical Hit Parade” at Faneuil Hall on Sunday, March 15. Beethoven, one of the three chosen by music director Steven Lipsitt, led the procession with the ever popular “Egmont” Overture.

Expecting bold moves and incisive contrasts, or a tautness ready to unravel, or even an overall lightness bordering on the hopeful—feelings found in the overture’s many, varied manifestations—I instead came upon a little of everything. For me, this Egmont seems to have functioned as the warm-up drill.

“Climaxing with the great Brahms’ Violin Concerto,” as Lipsitt writes about this selection on the program, violin soloist Irina Muresanu rallied in grand fashion, on the one hand giving a demonstration of near exacting discipline and on the other hand exhibiting true feeling—a strategy right in step with Brahms’ formalized Romanticism.

A native of Romania, the young and beautiful Muresanu, with her 1856 Joseph Rocca violin and Charles Peccat bow (a loaner from Mark Petashne), revisited Brahms’ only concerto for the instrument, yet one long and tough enough to equal possibly two. Never retreating from its extensive demands, an intense Muresanu combed through all of the finery, fiery, fleet and flowing.

Biting, decisive notes closer to midrange countered crystal clear notes up high on the fingerboard. Her openly communicative playing brightened up the old historic chamber where prominently displayed paintings of early American patriots surround the maxim, “Liberty and union now and forever.”

A vocal interloper, a very young child, could be heard and seen dangling from the arms of her mother seated in the balcony. Mostly unsuccessful in distracting the soloist in the midst of her lengthy cadenza, the child managed to draw glances from intent listeners.  Once again, Muresanu matched discipline with feeling ever so discerningly.

Except for instances of an over-bearing bow and a natural richness absent from the lowest string, Muresanu’s version of the Brahms earned respect and admiration.

From the start of the concerto, the orchestra found itself much more in step than in the Beethoven: attacks got better, balance surfaced, a Brahmsian ambience took hold. The audience struck back with “bravo, bravo” insisting on an encore, and to their delight, yet another classical hit, this by the same composer, his Hungarian Dance No.5.

A very well-known and adored folk-dance spinoff chocked full of treacherously shifting tempos can turn out to be as rejuvenating for the spectator as it can be a series of hair-raising encounters for the orchestra. Marshaling BCO forces, violinist Muresanu, herself, led just such a rendering, one marked with plenty of fun and just-out-of-sync rhythms.

Next in the parade came a salute to Mendelssohn with a BCO show of his Symphony No. 3, “Scottish.” The composer began working on it during a trip to Scotland when he was 20, finally completing the work 11 years later in 1842. How Scottish, and how much the symphony’s assigned “No. 3” tells the whole story, are questions that had to take back seat to a totally absorbing performance by BCO under an animated Lipsitt. The audience kept at full attention.

Files of heralding strings enjoyed resolute responses from lines of winds and ranks of brasses in what was quite a display of orchestral pageantry. Instead of the usual longer pauses between movements allowing audience members a brief respite or opportunity to finally cough, conductor Lipsitt effectively marched the orchestra straight through the entire symphony with hardly a break. Coming all together as in a great novel, tenderness gave way to the heroic, amazing quickness to an uncompromised show of splendor and polish. It was a brilliant feat—and a hit!

David Patterson, Professor of Music and Chairman of the Department at U. Mass Boston for the past 15 years, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. Also a composer, he lives in Watertown.

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