For thirty-one years, the Boston Classical Orchestra has been delivering audience-friendly performances to a devoted following in Boston’s Faneuil Hall, a venue resonant in acoustics and history. Indeed, it was built before Mozart was born and before the other composers in the program, Handel and Bach, had died. It’s also an intimate space with no seat more than fifty feet from the performers, and it adds a warm luster to a chamber orchestra. To encourage connections to the listeners, the Boston Classical Orchestra plays on the floor rather than the stage. But the un-intended consequence was our inability to observe the players from our seats on the un-raked (flat) floor. Seating the players on eight-to-twelve-inch risers for these concerts would enhance the musician-listener partnership.
Conductor Steven Lipsitt, the titulaire for the past eight years (following Boston’s much loved Harry Ellis Dickson’s run of sixteen), and the BCO strings opened with a lively account of the Handel Concerto Grosso in D major op. 6. There were some warm-up issues with intonation in large part, we learned later, from the orchestra’s decision to play the entire concert at lower than their normal pitch out of deference to the visiting flute soloist, Claudi Arimany.
The next piece, J. S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite no. 2, showed great sensitivity to the dance-inflected movements. Lipsitt seated himself at the continuo harpsichord and let Arimany conduct while facing the audience with his golden flute. (It had belonged to Jean-Pierre Rampal.) While Bach’s score includes a through-composed flute part, there are many times when the flute is merely doubling the high strings. So Arimany added variety to the proceedings by having some of the violins drop out in certain repeats to allow more opportunity for the flute to be heard.
BCO returned after intermission with a pumped-up performance of a young Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia no. 10. This was a real sturm und drang outing with no prisoners taken. The band made a big sound with well modulated dynamics and articulation; no pseudo Baroque here. Mozart’s sunnier Concerto No. 1 for flute and Orchestra concluded the regular program. Perhaps because Arimany was soloist and not also conductor, Lipsitt was back on the podium, and there were also horns and oboes in the mix, this performance was the most satisfying of the afternoon. Variety of color and inflection abounded, yet Lipsitt retained the sense of line and destination that led inevitably to an ovation demanding two encores: Mozart’s own arrangement of the Queen of the Night’s aria for two flutes (with Alan Weiss the BCO principal) and a sumptuous rendition of the aria “Che Faro Senza” from Gluck’s Orphée et Euridice with a rapt Arimany impersonating Orpheus.